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History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness

Lucian Boia

Chapter three. Continuity

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1An exceptional insistence on the “formation of the people” gives a particular character to Romanian historiography and historical consciousness. This question is doubled and amplified by that of the space in which the Romanian people and language were formed. It is here that we come up against the famous issue of continuity, which, along with “ethnogenesis”, has contributed to the creation of a veritable “national obsession”, kept alive by the play of ideology and politics. The problem of continuity is no more than the extreme manifestation of a more general lack of clear knowledge concerning the geographical setting of the beginnings of the Romanian people. Once again we find ourselves confronting a situation which is peculiar in European historiography. According to the various divergent foreign and Romanian theses, the Romanians were formed either on a territory corresponding to modern Romania or in a limited zone within that space, very limited in some variants; or in a region stretching far beyond the present geographical extent of the Romanian people to include a large part of Central and Southeastern Europe; or, finally, somewhere south of the Danube, completely outside the country where they now live.

2Three principal factors lie behind this highly paradoxical situation.

3First, there is a certain disaccord between the effective process of Roman expansion and Romanization and the present ethnic configuration of Southeastern Europe. The northern half of the Balkan Peninsula formed part of the Empire for some eight centuries, a period long enough to allow the installation and consolidation of a thriving Roman life. To the north of the Danube, on the other hand, on the present territory of Romania, the Romans effectively ruled only half of Dacia. Moreover, the province of Dacia belonged to the Empire for only 165 years, which may raise questions about the extent of Romanization there, while the un-annexed part of Dacia logically had no way of being Romanized at all. However, the result turns out to be the opposite of the starting point: Romania, the successor of Rome in this part of Europe, lies to the north of the Danube and not to the south.

4Second, the most varied hypotheses have free rein, given the paucity of sources for the area north of the Danube during the millennium that separates the withdrawal of Roman rule in the year 271 from the founding of the Romanian states in the fourteenth century, and especially the complete lack of internal written sources. Where some historical aspects are concerned, archaeology has proved capable of filling in the gaps. We now know that the territory of Dacia continued to be densely populated; we can reconstruct the way of life of the people who lived here. Unfortunately, the archaeological material cannot talk. It cannot tell us what language was spoken by the makers of objects from a particular century and a particular corner of present-day Romania.

5The last consideration, but by no means the least important, is that ideological and political factors have intervened in the game, greatly complicating the variants. The denial of Romanian continuity and the bringing of the Romanians from south of the Danube obviously corresponded to Austro-Hungarian objectives in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It continues to be a point of dogma in present-day Hungarian historiography, where it serves to ensure chronological primacy in Transylvania for the Magyars. However, similar arguments have been used, paradoxically, by both immigrationists and Romanian nationalists. The same historical premises can justify one theory or its opposite. The notion of the extermination of the Dacians, invoked by Latinists obsessed with the nobility and purity of Romanian blood, served the immigrationist thesis equally well. What argument could be better than the emptying of Dacia of its native population? Conversely, the notion of the non-Romanization of the Dacians, a tenet of the nationalist extreme of pure Dacianism, only provided further arguments for the hypothesis that the Romanians and the Romanian language had expanded from outside the present space of Romania, given that all serious linguists consider Romanian to be a Romance language.


  • 1 Şincai, Gheorghe. Hronica românilor şi a mai multor neamuri. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura pentru Lit (...)

6According to the Transylvanian School version, which was adopted by Romanian historiography as a whole around the middle of the nineteenth century, the initial Romanian space included both Dacia and the area south of the Danube. The Romanians appear as the successors to the Romans in this part of Europe. As information about the territory north of the Danube is scanty, their history in the centuries following the Aurelian withdrawal unfolds more in present-day Bulgaria than in Romania. “The Romanians were united to the Bulgars from the time of the arrival of the latter”, says Şincai, “so that not only did the Bulgars fight the Greeks but in larger numbers and more often the Romanians fought them under the name of Bulgars, Kumans, and Pechenegs.” In the year 963, with Samuil, who was Romanian, “kingship passed from the Bulgarians to the Romanians”.1 The first Bulgarian tsardom was thus Bulgarian-Romanian, and the second Romanian-Bulgarian; the “Romanian-Bulgarian Empire”, founded by Petru and Asan, Vlachs from south of the Danube, and raised to its apogee by Ioniţă, was to represent an important chapter in Romanian history down to the phase of communist historiography. Kogălniceanu makes the kingdom of the Transdanubian Vlachs continue to the year 1394, when it was destroyed by the Turks (he is referring, of course, to the Bulgarian tsardoms). He also claims that the Romanians of the Balkans provided numerous emperors for Rome and Byzantium. Laurian, likewise, refers to the “Bulgarian-Romanian Kingdom” (the first tsardom) and the “Empire of the Romanians and the Bulgarians” (the second tsardom, which lasted until the end of the fourteenth century).

7We may note that the shifting of the principal scene of Romanian history for several centuries from north to south of the Danube might suggest a scenario similar to that maintained by the immigrationists. However, the Romanian historians presented themselves as partisans of continuity. Romanity south of the Danube was simply more active, more “visible” than the Romanity of former Dacia.

  • 2 Hasdeu, B. P. Istoria critică a românilor. Vol. 1. Bucharest, 1873, 306-308.

8In contrast with this generous expansion of the initial Romanian space, Hasdeu set out, in his Critical History of the Romanians, to impose severe limits on it. The lack of Germanic elements in the Romanian language made him withdraw the Daco—Romans from the regions on either side of the Danube, where the presence of migrating Germans was attested. The space in which the Romanian people and language were formed thus becomes even narrower than the frontiers of Roman Dacia. The “ethnographic map” of Romania from the third to the sixth century extends, according to Hasdeu, “from Severin to Haţeg, from the Temeşiana mountains to the Olt, far from the Goths and Gepids”. Thus, “the Romanian nationality was born and developed in Oltenia, as far as the Haţeg Valley”. From Oltenia the Romanians spread into Transylvania, Muntenia, and Moldavia, by a prolonged process which began in the sixth century and continued until the fourteenth. Hasdeu insists on the “Oltenians’ force of expansion”.2 For him, Oltenia was, and remains, the nucleus of Romanian nationality. It is certain that the nationalist Hasdeu was impressed by the “ethnic cleanness” of Oltenia, which, out of all the Romanian territories, was the province with the lowest proportion of foreign elements.

  • 3 * Daco—Romanian: the Romanian language as spoken in Romania itself; Macedo—Romanian: the dialect of (...)
  • 4 Xenopol, A. D. Teoria lui Roesler. Studii asupra stăruinţei românilor în Dada Troiană. Iaşi: Tipog (...)

9We encounter another sort of territorial limitation with Xenopol. His aim was to dismande, point by point, the demonstration of Roesler, who had published his Romanian Studies in 1871. In support of his thesis of the Transdanubian origin of the Romanians, Roesler invoked the similarities between Daco-Romanian and Macedo—Romanian speech*3, two dialects of the same language which are found nowadays at a great distance from each other, and the south Slav influence in the Romanian language. Xenopol’s response appeared in 1884 under the tide The Theory of Roesler Studies of the Persistence of the Romanians in Dacia Traiana (and in French in 1885: Une énigme historique. Tes Roumains au Moyen Age). His tactic is to concentrate on two objectives: first, to separate, from the very beginning, the Romanians north of the Danube from the Macedo—Romanians; and second, to explain the south Slav influence otherwise than by the Romanians having lived south of the river. According to Xenopol, Moesia was weakly Romanized in antiquity, so the Romanians could not have been formed there. The Romanic element is not found in Moesia but further south in the Balkan mountains. There is thus no direct link between the two Romance branches of the East: “The Daco-Romanians and the Macedo-Romanians are two distinct peoples from their origin, who owe their striking similarities to the circumstances of their having emerged from the same mixture of elements.”4 In order to distance the Romanians further from the Balkan sphere, Xenopol separated them from the Danube, too, and pushed them towards the mountains. In the age of migrations, he argues, the Romanians withdrew within the “fortress” of the Carpathians, into the area of Transylvania; this explains the remarkable unity of the Romanian language and the existence of words of Hungarian origin in the speech of all Romanians. It also lies behind the “dismountings” of Negru Vodă in Wallachia and Dragoş-Bogdan in Moldavia. After the last wave of migration, that of the Tatars, the Romanians (realizing that the migrations were over?) came down to the foothills and plains and founded the two principalities. The formation of the Romanian people and Romanian continuity are thus limited to Transylvania, and took place within the shelter of the Carpathian arc.

10As far as clarifying the Slav influence is concerned—the other essential point of Xenopol’s demonstration—here, too, we are invited to observe a complete overturning of Roesler’s arguments. Once the evolution of the Romanians south of the Danube is no longer accepted, the opposite solution remains: expansion of the Slavs from south to north of the river.. Xenopol considers that the first Bulgarian tsardom extended over the entire territory of today’s Romania. For several centuries “Romania” was part of Bulgaria. Hence the Slav rite in the Romanian Church and Slavonic political and cultural influence in general.

11How would a Romanian nationalist today regard the limitation of Romanian continuity to Transylvania and the subordination of the first Romanians to the Bulgarian tsardom? And yet Xenopol pursued his arguments out of pure nationalism, with the intention of bringing down to the ground the whole scaffolding constructed by Roesler. The pathways of nationalism are varied and sometimes unexpected.

12Hasdeu placed the “cradle” of the Romanian people within the bounds of Oltenia. Xenopol expressed his preference for another of the Romanian provinces: Transylvania. Onciul went beyond these limitations. In a text which was conceived as a review of Xenopol’s book but which developed into a significant work in its own right, one of the fundamental monographs on the issue (“The Theory of Roesler. Studies of the Persistence of the Romanians in Dacia Traiana by A. D. Xenopol: A Critical Appraisal”, in Convorbiri literare, 1885), he opted for the whole space of Roman Dacia: Oltenia, the Banat, and the western part of Transylvania. According to Onciul, the area in which the Romanian people was formed also extended beyond the Danube. Moesia, which was only superficially Romanized according to Xenopol’s thesis, became, for Onciul, a powerful focus of Romanity. The Danube disappeared as a border. Originary “Romania” included about half the present territory of Romania, but also a large part of present-day Bulgaria and Serbia.

  • 5 Onciul, Dimitrie. “Teoria lui Roesler. Studii asupra stăruinţei româilor în Dacia Troiană de A D. (...)

13We have seen that there was already a tradition in the national historiography of including Romanity south of the Danube in Romanian history. Onciul was referring, however, not only to a common territory of the Romanians and the Balkan Vlachs but to a feeding of Romanity north of the Danube with Romanic waves from the south, which brought him, in part, close to the immigrationists. His theory, which he termed “admigration”, is a synthesis or compromise solution between the strict thesis of continuity and the no less strict thesis of immigration. From Onciul’s point of view the Romanian people was formed from both the continuity of the Daco—Roman element in the province of Dacia and a considerable input of Romanized population from south of the river. In the first centuries of the Middle Ages the Roman element in the Balkans, claims Onciul, was actually stronger “than it could have been in Dacia Traiana in the time of the invasions. This Roman element in the Balkan countries is beyond doubt identical to the Romanian element, and thus our early history unfolded especially in the Balkan Peninsula, beginning with the Roman conquest of the Thraco—Illyrian lands and their Romanization. It would be very wrong to give up this history and to limit our past only to Dacia Traiana, where it seems that we will look for it in that time in vain, to know it and understand it.”5

14For several centuries from the seventh century onwards, following the Slav invasions south of the Danube there was considerable movement from the Romanic “reservation” of the Balkans into the area north of the river, the Romanity of which, although it had survived, had nevertheless been considerably diminished by a series of barbarian invasions. Like Xenopol, Onciul argued that the territories on the left side of the Danube had belonged to the Bulgarian tsardom, which would have facilitated the process of “admigration”. He even considered—in contrast to Xenopol—that the second tsardom, the Romanian-Bulgarian Empire, had extended as far as the Carpathians, which would further explain the weight of the Romanian element in this political construction. The origins of Wallachia are also to be found here, with Muntenia breaking away at a certain point from the Asan state. The Romanian population spread east of the Olt and the Carpathians—into Muntenia and Moldavia—only from the second half of the eleventh century (following the abandonment of these lands by the Pechenegs). The Romanians thus appear at one and the same time as indigenous (in Roman Dacia), immigrants (from south of the Danube), and conquerors (in the principalities).

15I do not wish to discuss the validity of the solution proposed by Onciul, or indeed the validity of such solutions in general. I would merely point out that the admigrationist thesis achieved a skillful combination of continuity and immigrationism, offering plausible answers to all the uncomfortable questions of the immigrationists. If the Romanian element had also formed to the south of the Danube, then the whole immigrationist argument could no longer be used against continuity north of the river.

16In his later interpretations Onciul came to put a somewhat greater accent on the area of Roman Dacia and to underline the permanence of the Roman element installed here, assigning only an auxiliary role to the contribution from south of the Danube.

  • 6 Philippide, Alexandru. Originea românilor. Vol. 1. Iaşi, 1923, 854; Vol. 2. Iaşi, 1927, 569.

17It was along the same line of synthesis between continuity and immigration that the greatest Romanian linguists took their positions. Overall it is possible to note a greater willingness among linguists than among historians to consider Romanity south of the Danube as a founding element. Alexandru Philippide (1859-1933) goes furthest, in his Origin of the Romanians (1923-1927), where he argues for a complete (or almost complete) extinction of Romanity north of the Danube after the Aurelian withdrawal, and a re-colonization of the present territory of Romania from the seventh to the thirteenth century by a Romanic population from south of the Danube.6

  • 7 Densuşianu, Ovid. Histoire de la langue roumaine (History of the Romanian language). Vol. 1. Paris (...)

18Differentiating himself only partially from Roesler and Philippide, Ovid Densuşianu (1873—1938), in his Histoire de la langue roumaine (1902)—a work which enjoyed a large readership in the field of Romance linguistics—took into consideration the survival of a certain Roman element to the north of the Danube, especially in the southwest of today’s Romania. However, in his view, too, the Balkan element was more important than the indigenous contribution, although he placed its origin not in Moesia, as was generally accepted, but further west in Illyria.7 Finally, Sextil Puşcariu (1877-1948) proposed a linguistic synthesis involving to an equal extent the territory of Dacia Traiana and the Thraco-Illyrian provinces of the Balkan Peninsula.

  • 8 Brătianu, G. I. O enigmă şi un miracol istoric: poporul român (An enigma and a historical miracle: (...)

19Gheorghe Brătianu also follows the Onciul-Puşcariu line in Une énigme et un miracle historique: Le peuple roumain (1937, Romanian edition 1940), in which he engages in a polemic with the immigrationists while still accepting an origin partly south of the Danube for the Romanian language and people and conceding to the immigrationists that “the region to the east of the Carpathians, Moldavia and Bessarabia, was certainly the last stage of Romanian expansion in the Middle Ages”.8 However, the relatively late Romanization of the Moldavian area (in the centuries preceding the formation of the principalities) is not, according to Brâtianu, an argument in favor of Slav priority, since the Slavs, who are mentioned by Jordanes and Procopius, had been replaced in the meantime by various peoples of the Steppes, such as the Pechenegs and Kumans. If Moldavia had not originally been Romanian, it had thus not been Slav either.

  • 9 Panaitescu, P. P. Istoria românilor. Reproduction of the 1943 edition. Bucharest Editura Didactică (...)

20The idea of a double origin, north and south of the Danube, is expressed clearly by P. P. Panaitescu in his textbook of the history of the Romanians: “[...] from the existence of Albanian elements in the Romanian language and the similarity of the Daco-Romanian and Macedo-Romanian dialects it can be shown that the area where the Romanian folk was formed is the lower Danube valley, on both sides of the river, the whole of Dacia Traiana, and the two Moesias (Bulgaria and Serbia).”9

21One thing must be noticed in all of this, unexpected as it may be for the Romanian reader of today, who has been subjected during the decades of national communism to a violent anti-Roesler campaign: that is, the fact that many Romanian specialists, historians and linguists, chose a compromise solution between continuity and immigrationism (with a variety of nuances concerning the weighting or extent of the territories north and south of the Danube that were involved in the Romanian genesis).


  • 10 Pârvan, Vasile. Inceputurile vieţii romane la gurile Dunării. 2nd edition. Bucharest Editura Ştiin (...)

22There are, at the same time, historians who, without in any way ignoring Balkan Romanity, set out in the first place to consolidate and integrate the sphere of Romanity and Romanian-ness north of the Danube. In his Beginnings of Roman Life at the Mouth of the Danube (1923), Vasile Pârvan couples the province of Dacia with a second focus of Romanity, which he terms “Scythian Dacia”. Under this name he brings together Dobrogea, which was under Roman rule for centuries, Muntenia, and the southern part of Moldavia and Bessarabia. Here then, in as much as Romanian rights were justified in terms of Daco—Roman origins, we have the inclusion in the ideal originary Romanian sphere of a large part of the territory that remained outside Dacia Traiana. Though not officially annexed to the Empire, the plain to the north of the Danube, caught as it was between Transylvanian, Oltenian, and Dobrogean Romanity, was subject to a perceptible degree of Romanization. “Dobrogea is full of Roman towns. Muntenia and Moldavia are full of Dacian villages permeated by Roman life. Between Trajan’s Dacia, which only began its new life from the year 107 onwards, and Dobrogea, which had begun it almost a hundred years earlier, numerous roads were opened up, which were well guarded and much traveled, both from Transylvania to the sea and from the sea to Transylvania. In the valleys of the Siret, the Buzău, the Ialomiţa, and the Arges, Roman troops, Roman merchants, and Daco-Roman peasants passed up and down, and Dacian life, in its deepest recesses, became, without noise or pomp, Roman life.”10 The whole territory of Romania, all the Romanian provinces, brought their contribution to the formation of the Romanian people. Such is Pârvan’s conclusion (which he also expresses clearly in his Dacia).

  • 11 Iorga, N. Istoria românilor pentru poporul românesc. Vol 1. Bucharest: Editura Minerva, 1993, 35.

23Iorga, too, tends to integrate the complete area of Romania into an early “Romanian Land”, even if he does not regard the intensity of Romanity or Romanian-ness as equal from one province to another: “The whole land— Transylvania, where there were many Romanians; Oltenia, where there were a considerable number; Muntenia, where villages were rarer; and Moldavia, where our people were still gradually Romanizing the western Slavs, the litle Russians— was called the Romanian Land [...].”11

  • 12 Ibid., 51.

24For Iorga and Pârvan, the Romanians are, by virtue of their very survival, in contrast to the greater part of the Latin element in the Balkans, the inheritors and continuers of eastern Romanity in its entirety. Romanity south of the Danube played a significant part in the extension of the Roman element in Dacia, but once implanted north of the river its persistence was principally due to its own vitality. The Romanian phase of history unfolds in the first place on the territory of present-day Romania. Referring to what is usually known in Romanian historiography as the “Romanian-Bulgarian Empire”, Iorga underlines its fundamentally Bulgarian character; the Romanian founders rapidly lost the consciousness “that they belonged to a folk other than the Bulgarian folk”. “Through these scattered Romanians, these shepherds of ours, great and glorious things were achieved, but for anotherfolk.”12

  • 13 Giurescu, C. C. Istoria românilor. Vol. 1. 5th edition, 1946, 269.

25Nor does C. C. Giurescu invoke any movement of Romanian population from the other side of the Danube in the first centuries of the Middle Ages, although he underlines the presence and vitality of the Balkan Vlachs. He seeks, rather, to integrate the whole territory north of the river in the process of the constitution of the Romanian people. In response to Xenopol’s “withdrawal into the mountains”, which would have drastically limited the originary Romanian space, he proposes a withdrawal into the forests in the face of the various invaders: “The shelter of our ancestors in the Middle Ages was the forest.” But since forests covered almost the whole Romanian land, we can hardly speak of a withdrawal or cession of territory at all. “The Muntenian plain and the Moldavian and Transylvanian plateaus were covered with immense woodlands. From the foothills of the mountains one could go to the Danube and the Dniester, and in some places as far as the sea, passing through forests all the way.”13 When the Slavs came, the Daco-Romans were at home in the Vlăsia Forest—the “Forest of the Romanians”—in the Muntenian plain.

26For all this gradual concentration on the whole territory of present-day Romania, it can still be said that all historians before the communist period also took into consideration the formation and evolution of the Romanian people in the Balkans. The differences in interpretation concern the movement of population, that is, the participation (either massive or limited), non-participation, or negligible participation of Balkan Romanity in the construction of Romanian-ness north of the Danube. The historical demonstration was not without contemporary implications: Romania was seeking to play a role of arbiter in the Balkans and was already establishing itself as the protector of the Aromanians scattered through the peninsula.


27The communist phase of historical discourse was marked, on the other hand, by the eclipse of Balkan Romanian-ness. In its “internationalist” stage the Slav expansion over the originary Romanian space—Russian in the north and Bulgarian in the south—left no room for any manifestations of Romanian-ness beyond the present borders; those borders were themselves blurred, submerged in the Slav sea. Nor did the following, nationalist, stage prove more favorable to the Romanians “out there”. The principle of “non-interference” in the affairs of other states—a necessity if the Ceauşescu regime was to demand non-interference by the “others” in its own politics—was pushed back into the past. The borders of modern Romania were imprinted as an unchanging framework over its entire historical evolution—an eternal Romania, with the outline of the Greater Romania of 1918. (At one time the image of Greater Romania, filled in with a single color, appeared on maps intended for educational use regardless of the period represented. Romania emerged as the only European entity with an invariable oudine, even in the Middle Ages, centuries before it was founded!) From this point of view it was no longer possible to talk of a historical “annexation” of the area south of the Danube, just as there could be no “renunciation” (again in a historical sense) of those provinces (Transylvania, Dobrogea, and Bessarabia) that had been included for centuries within other borders. History was rewritten in terms of a Romania which had existed forever, needing nothing from others and yielding them nothing of its heritage.

  • 14 Istoria României. Vol. 1. Bucharest Editura Academiei, 1960, 776, 808.

28In the first volume (1960) of The History of Romania, a theoretical justification for the renunciation of the Balkan space was found by making a distinction between two stages, the first stage, “preceding the formation of the people, in which it is only possible to speak of a Roman or Romanic population”, and the second, the “prolonged stage of the formation of the Romanian people itself as a separate people”. Thus even if both banks of the Danube could be taken into consideration for the period of Roman rule in Dacia or immediately after, this issue has no connection to the actual formation of the Romanian people but only to the extension of the Romanic element in south-eastern Europe. The Romanian people was formed only after the separation of Balkan Romanity from Romanity north of the Danube following the Slav invasion—more precisely, “in the last centuries of the first millennium of our era, in the area north of the lower Danube, having its territorial nucleus in the hill and mountain lands of Dacia”.14

  • 15 Istoria României. Ed. Miron Constantinescu, Constantin Daicoviciu, and Stefan Pascu. Bucharest Edi (...)

29The limitation to the area north of the Danube is accompanied by an even more strict limitation, which, for reasons of prudence, is expressed in the wooden language of the time. The phrase “having its territorial nucleus in the hill and mountain lands of Dacia” was intended to mean that the Romanian people was not even born on the whole territory of Romania but only where there had been Roman colonization, in the hill and mountain zone of Transylvania and Oltenia. This was the opinion of Constantin Daicoviciu, which he later upheld openly with arguments in the years of relative “liberalization”. In his contribution to The History of Romania, published in 1969, Daicoviciu underlined the fact that the principle of continuity concerned only Roman Dacia, not the entire Romanian territory of today, given that “the Dacian population in Muntenia and Moldavia was Romanized much later”. He expressed reservations regarding the tendency to attribute ethnic identity to archaeological material, a method which was used and abused in order to decree the Romanian character of each and every vestige. He even dared to consider the Dridu culture (identified in Muntenia, less present in Transylvania, but highly developed in Bulgaria), which was generally interpreted by Romanian archaeologists in terms of continuity, as “a Slav culture (or more accurately, Slavo-Bulgar)”.15 The territory of Romania was thus divided between a Romanized Transylvania and an extra-Carpathian zone marked by a profound Slav imprint.

  • 16 Istoria poporului român. Ed. Andrei Ojetea. Bucharest: Editura Ştiinţifică, 1970, 108.

30The Dridu culture was for several decades the focus of a polemic, with most Romanian researchers maintaining its Romanian character while foreigners regarded it as Slav. The stakes were particularly high as the period in question, the eighth and ninth centuries, corresponds to the crystallization of the Romanian ethnic and linguistic phenomenon. In contrast to Daicoviciu, Ion Nestor, an archaeologist otherwise noted for the value and originality of his research, demonstrates in The History of the Romanian People (1970) a remarkable degree of conformism. He sees the constitutive elements of the Dridu culture as “in their majority of Romanian origin”, identifies “proto-Romanians” in the sixth century, and extends the area in which the Romanian people was formed, without much discussion, to the entire territory of the country, with an emphasis on the connections between the provinces.16

31This version, in which the Romanian people was formed exactly on the territory where it now lives, without the slightest fluctuation of borders, was imposed in the 1970s and 1980s, both in the official discourse of national history and in the more or less conformist contributions of many specialists.

  • 17 Bârzu, Ligia. Continuitatea creaţiei materiale şi spirituale a poporului român pe teritoriul foste (...)

32Ligia Bârzu’s work The Continuity of the Material and Spiritual Creation of the Romanian People on the Former Territory of Dacia (1979), a newer version of which was written in the 1980s and published in 1991 (The Origin and Continuity of the Romanians: Archaeology and Historical Tradition), offers an overall perspective on the problem and a stimulating starting point for discussion of the relation between archaeology and continuity. Between the premises offered, which reflect an indisputable professionalism, and the already well known conclusions, the ideological grid of “unity and continuity” intervenes. Thus we find, presented as a well-established fact, the parallelism of the process of Romanization in Roman Dacia and outside it: “Taking into account all the possible considerations, it appears very probable that an early date can be accepted for the moment at which Latin came into general use in the territory of the eastern Dacians, in Muntenia and southern Moldavia.”17 It is clear from the context that this moment is prior to the Aurelian withdrawal, or at any rate not long after. For a “non-archaeologist” the difficulty is this: the organized and massive character of Roman colonization in the province of Dacia has generally been advanced in support of its rapid and profound Romanization; however, archaeology shows the survival until much later, after the Aurelian withdrawal, of important elements and “islands” of Dacian civilization. How was it then possible for there to take place a parallel phenomenon of Romanization, of the imposition of the Latin language, where the Romans had not settled?

  • 18 Ibid., 86; Bârzu, Ligia and Stelian Brezeanu. Originea şi continuitatea românilor. Arheologie şi t (...)

33We next find out that after centuries of uninterrupted material continuity there was a complete overturning in the second half of the sixth century and the first half of the seventh, with the settlement of the Slavs on Romanian territory. Everything changed—the form of houses, their contents, and even funerary rituals. We find only cremation burials, “in striking contrast with the preceding centuries”: “This is the moment in which antique traditions disappear, when culture returns to prehistoric forms of manifestation, such as the preponderance of hand-worked pottery and the decline of craft techniques and traditions.”18

34The conclusion? We know it already: regardless of the premises, it cannot be other than material and spiritual continuity on the former territory of Dacia!

35What we in fact see here is an amalgamation of “continuity of life” with Romanian continuity. Continuity of life is evident, and we scarcely need archaeological arguments any more to support it. Who today can still imagine that the Dacians disappeared, exterminated by the Romans, or that in 271 or at some subsequent date the population north of the Danube migrated to the south? The time is past when Roesler could shift the Daco-Romans to the Balkans while Xenopol crowded them into the mountains of Transylvania. However, the problem of Romanian continuity is not whether people continued to live here, but whether they continued to speak Latin, and later Romanian. Or was Latinity wiped out, as it was in Britain, in Pannonia, in the Balkans, and in North Africa? The archaeological discontinuity around the year 600, reflecting a restructuring which led to the evolution of the Dridu culture, might tend to invite an interpretation in such terms. Archaeology is a two-edged weapon: much depends on who uses it and how it is used. It is more correct and more prudent not to mix things: material arguments have nothing to say about the language or languages people spoke, or about the linguistic amalgam, either in favor of the Romanians or against them.

  • 19 Manea, Mihai, Adrian Pascu and Bogdan Teodorescu. Istoria románilor. Din cele mal vechi timpuri pî (...)
  • 20 Significant for the limits within which the discussion could evolve is the work of Kurt Horedt (a (...)

36After 1989 the political reasons for limiting history to present-day borders no longer apply. The Dridu culture can now serve not only to keep the whole territory of Romania “under control”, but to extend its area of origin. As nothing expresses the historical ideas in general circulation better than a school textbook, let us consider the map in the History of the Romanians, an eleventh-grade textbook of 1992, for an impression of the “new” area of formation of the Romanian people. “The area of the first Romanian archaeological ensemble” (which is of course the Dridu culture) includes the whole of Greater Romania, to which are added almost the entire territory of Hungary and Bulgaria as far as the Balkan mountains.19 It is a remarkable expansion for a culture which Daicoviciu would not even allow to represent Transylvania! Would it not have been more correct to explain to the pupils that we do not actually know whether Dridu was a Romanian, Slav, or Slavo—Romanian culture? That in fact the investigation of material remains does not allow us to draw conclusions (at least not indisputable conclusions) about the language which the people in question spoke? Can we really say that Bulgaria, precisely in the phase of expansion of the first Bulgarian tsardom, was predominantly Romanian? The Romanians were of course present in this vast area, as were the Slavs; one group cannot be excluded in favor of the other.20


37Alongside ethnic continuity, a no less mythologized aspect is political continuity. The mere perpetuation of an amorphous Romanian element, subject to various periods of foreign domination, does not seem a satisfactory solution. Whether they admit it or not, what gives the Romanians complexes is the absence, for a thousand years, of a Romanian state, the lack of a political tradition deeply rooted in time, comparable with that of the neighboring nations.

38The Chronicle of Hum was an attempt, for its time, to fill in this gap, by inventing out of nothing a Romanian republic in the year 271. The common state of the Romanians and Bulgarians might, more credibly, have played a similar role. But with Xenopol and Onciul it metamorphosed into a sort of Bulgarian domination north of the Danube.

39Following unbeaten trails as was his wont, Hasdeu reconstructed a wondrous history around the great Basarab family. His essay about them in Etymologicum Magnum Romaniae, which was later published separately under the tide The Basarabs: Who? From Where? Since When? (1896), offers perhaps the most fascinating historical text in all Romanian literature. Piece by piece Hasdeu builds up a scholarly demonstration guided by an apparendy impeccable logic, until he succeeds in constructing a splendid imaginary edifice. The conclusion is that the Basarabs were originally a Dacian caste who gave Dacia kings and Rome several emperors. As leaders of Oltenia they then watched over the fortunes of the Romanian people for a millennium, before proceeding to found the Wallachian state. It is a perfect political continuity, already, in some periods, marked by events that are inscribed in the greater history of the world.

40After so many attempts, unfortunately imaginary, the field still remained empty. In order to fill it in, Iorga suggested that the natives had organized themselves, after the Aurelian withdrawal, into what he called “popular Romanias”, a solution which is not quite explicit but which appeared to many to be the saving version and which has been invoked by many authors down to the present day.

41The Transylvanian voivodes Gelu, Glad, and Menumorut, recorded in the Hungarian Chronicle of Anonymus (Gesta Hungarorum), play an important role in Romanian history, precisely because they illustrate, alongside ethnic continuity, the presence of certain Romanian state structures at the time of Hungarian expansion. This privileged position tended to put brakes on the normal exercise of critical historiography. Rather than being real people, these three seem, like Negru Vodă, to be symbolic figures, the individualizations of a certain political idea or historical situation (in the case in question, the existence of Romanian formations), although this does not change the basic essence of the problem.

  • 21 Programul Partidului Comunist Român de făurire a societăţii socialiste multilateral dezoltate şi î (...)

42In the last half century there has been an attempt—based especially on archaeological material—to push such political units further back in time. It is indeed hard to conceive of an area the size of Romania without any forms of territorial organization, however summary. But this sort of fragmentation into self-contained mini-states was not enough to satisfy the national-communist ideology, with its emphasis on the complete unity of the country and the no less complete continuity of Dacia and Romania. The state, the whole state, had to continue whatever the price. Thus the Romanian Communist Party’s Program of 1975, a text with considerable historical implications, mentions a “non-organized state”, which remained on the territory of Dacia after the withdrawal of Roman rule.21 According to all current definitions and interpretations, a state is generally considered to be something organized. The concept of the “non-organized state” was thus, at the time, a highly original contribution not only to the history of the Romanians but to the theory of the state in general. The uninterrupted existence of the state from Burebista to Ceauşescu imposed itself as the dogma of autochthonous national-communism, and so the Romanian state became one of the oldest in Europe.


43In a rapid and inevitably incomplete overview, we have here the avatars of the originary Romanian space: from Hasdeu’s Oltenia to the Romanian—Hungarian-Bulgarian complex of the latest school textbooks; from Roesler’s exclusively Transdanubian Romanity to the no less exclusive formation of the Romanian people strictly on the territory of yesterday’s Dacia and today’s Romania. I shall not permit myself to suggest a solution that would favor one or other of the hypotheses. However, I believe that two observations are absolutely necessary, the first concerning methodology and the second ideology.

44Regarding the question of the formation and continuity of the Romanian people, Romanian historians of the last half century have tended to overestimate their own means, showing little interest in the research and conclusions of linguists. As the literary sources have in general been used up, Romanian historiography has come to rely on archaeology. The problem of continuity has thus become an almost exclusively archaeological one. Language has taken second place to “concrete” evidence. It is a curious approach, given that what is called, in a somewhat vague formula, the “forming of the Romanian people” actually means, in more precise and appropriate terms, “the forming of the Romanian language”. The Romanians are people who speak Romanian; even if it is not the sole “condition” it is certainly the first and essential condition. I would not go so far as to say that archaeology has nothing to offer in such a question, but ultimately its role is limited. In fact, for decades archaeologists have taken upon themselves the mission of fully clarifying the problem of continuity. Naturally enough they have discovered, in every corner of Romania and for every period under discussion, remains which confirm the continuity of life. But here there has been a confusion; it matters little whether deliberate or not. What is at issue is not the continuity of the population in general, but Roman and Romanian continuity. For the purposes of this discussion, a “Dacian” who did not speak Romanian is of no interest: he was not Romanian.

  • 22 Tagliavini, Cario. Originile limbilor neolatine. Editura Ştiinţifică şi Enciclopedică, 1977, 300.

45Nor can the linguists propose an indisputable solution. All they can say is that, to a greater extent than the historians, they feel the need to take into consideration an area south of the Danube too. Even in the communist period Iorgu Iordan, a pupil of Alexandru Philippide, was ready to uphold this point of view. We should also note the publication—annotated but uncensored—of Carlo Tagliavini’s synthesis The Origins of the Neo-Latin Languages (1977), in which the respected Italian linguist, in company with many others, situated the formation of the Romanian language in a restricted area on both sides of the Danube: “Without denying the existence of certain remains of the Roman population north of the Danube, most foreign philologists recognize that the place of formation of the Romanian language must be approximately located in the southwestern borderlands to the north and south of the Danube.”22 In fact, once again, the conclusions of the linguists cannot be considered certain and unanimous either.

46The version according to which the Romanian language was formed within a limited space (at any rate perceptibly smaller than that of present-day Romania) both north and south of the Danube presents fewer weak points and explains more than the other versions. It may be considered a cleverer and more logical hypothesis, but it is not necessarily more true. It is hard to suppose that the truth, the complete and perfect truth, will ever be reconstructed. History, even history and linguistics together, cannot offer total reconstruction, especially when the phenomena under discussion lie in the far-off mists of beginnings. It is correct to acknowledge and state without embarrassment that everything in this field is hypothesis, though of course nothing prevents us from considering one or other of the hypotheses to be more “true”.

47My second observation concerns the ideological basis and political exploitation of the question. The actualization of foundation myths is a mental process which we cannot prevent. In invoking their origins, the Romanians, like any other people, have the feeling that they are affirming their individuality and defending their rights. Anti-Romanian attacks appeal no less to historical schemas. To the extent that Hungarian historiography stands out as the principal adversary of Romanian continuity north of the Danube, it is clear that what is at issue is, above all, the problem of Transylvania. The formation of the Romanian people to the north of the Danube, and actually on the land of Transylvania, legitimizes Romanian rights over the province. The coming of the Romanians from elsewhere, on the other hand, demonstrates the historical right of the Hungarians. The situation is similar with Bessarabia and even Moldavia. What would happen if we found out that the Romanians came here after the Slavs?

48In fact nothing would happen. Without denying the right of the historical imaginary to deploy its resources, it is clear that the real moving force behind territorial evolutions is not the appeal to a distant past. The forcible modification of borders can easily find a historical alibi: History offers everything. Mussolini wanted to remake the Roman Empire. He had, it could be said, every right: for almost a millennium the Mediterranean Sea had been an Italian lake, and Latin was spoken from Spain to Bulgaria and from Libya to Britain. On the basis of history—of immigrationist theory, to be precise—the Hungarians could be sent back to the Urals and the Americans back to Europe, leaving the Indians free in their own land. Let no one say I am proposing a stupid game; we can find the same game in our own history, too. Moreover, history is not a unique and absolute given; it proposes a multitude of sequences, from which each of us can select what suits us. If we place ourselves in the year 800, then we can send the Hungarians back to the Urals; but if we move on to 1 000 or 1 200 things look different, this time in favor of a historical right which can be invoked by those nostalgic for Greater Hungary. Similarly, the Romanian right to Dobrogea is often related to the rule of Mrcea the Old. Dobrogea, however, was not only ruled by Mircea, but also, and for much longer periods, by the Greeks, the Bulgarians, and the Turks.

49To the extent that not force—which can always find its justifications, in history or elsewhere—but right is to decide, the past must give way before the realities of the present and the free expression of options. The rights of the Romanians in Transylvania are only supported in appearance by Dacians or Daco—Romans. However, they are supported effectively by the fact that the substantial majority of the population is Romanian and that, if the occasion were to present itself, most inhabitants of the province would decisively affirm their belonging to Romania. In the event of an inversion of the numerical relation between ethnic groups in Transylvania—a phenomenon which has occurred in various parts of the world— the situation would be different. Who could pretend to return to the borders and ethnic proportions of hundreds of years ago? The case of Kosovo is instructive. Here the affirmation of Serbian antiquity and continuity comes up today against the far more convincing argument of an overwhelming Albanian majority. From this point of view the question of Transylvania is settled. Hungarian or Romanian mythological exercises do not change anything: Transylvania is indisputably Romanian, just as it is also indisputable that a Hungarian minority live there, whose specific rights need to be recognized. Neither continuity nor immigrationism can alter the data of the problem one iota.

50In fighting against Hungarian immigrationism, Romanian historians have allowed themselves to be caught up in a race, especially in the Ceausescu period when insistence on the antiquity and continuity of the folk became the order of the day. Historical right was brought to the foreground, and, since nothing is certain and univocal in matters of historical right—especially in such a complicated question as the origins of the Romanians—a feeble and controversial argument ended up eclipsing the undeniable reality of the predominantly Romanian character of Transylvania, regardless of what might have happened a thousand or two thousand years ago. A fragile argument was put above an unassailable argumentation. The recourse to history can have a boomerang effect. We have just admired the Romanian map of the Dridu culture, but there is a danger that a Bulgarian one will look much the same. What do we do then? Do we include Romania in Bulgaria or Bulgaria in Romania?

51The issue that must be addressed is not the giving up of foundation myths but the de-dramatizing and de-politicizing of them. This is valid not just for Romanians, indeed not even especially for Romanians, but for everybody, at least within the Central European space, since the West, learning something from its recent history, has considerably attenuated the conflictual character of the discourse of origins. Europe is being constructed on the basis of present realities, including its present political and ethnographical maps. The implication of the past in the present (which in fact means the projection of the present onto the past) can generate inextricable conflicts. It is natural that each nation should respect and love its history, but it is an illusion (which can become dangerous) that history has already marked out the road which we must continue to follow. The responsibility for today is ours, not our ancestors’; we cannot build the future by looking at the past.


1 Şincai, Gheorghe. Hronica românilor şi a mai multor neamuri. Vol. 1. Bucharest: Editura pentru Literatură, 1967, 282-283, 289.

2 Hasdeu, B. P. Istoria critică a românilor. Vol. 1. Bucharest, 1873, 306-308.

3 * Daco—Romanian: the Romanian language as spoken in Romania itself; Macedo—Romanian: the dialect of the Aromanians of the Balkans. Trans.

4 Xenopol, A. D. Teoria lui Roesler. Studii asupra stăruinţei românilor în Dada Troiană. Iaşi: Tipografia Naţională, 1884, 224.

5 Onciul, Dimitrie. “Teoria lui Roesler. Studii asupra stăruinţei româilor în Dacia Troiană de A D. Xenopol. Dare de scamă critică”. Scieri istorice. Ed. Aurelian Sacerdoţeanu. Vol 1. Bucharest: Editura Ştiintifică, 1968, 244.

6 Philippide, Alexandru. Originea românilor. Vol. 1. Iaşi, 1923, 854; Vol. 2. Iaşi, 1927, 569.

7 Densuşianu, Ovid. Histoire de la langue roumaine (History of the Romanian language). Vol. 1. Paris, 1902 (reprinted Bucharest, 1929), 288—289: “Un point où nous tombons d’accord avec Rosier c’est que le centre de la formation du roumain doit être placé au sud du Danube.”

8 Brătianu, G. I. O enigmă şi un miracol istoric: poporul român (An enigma and a historical miracle: The Romanian people). Bucharest Fundaţia pentru Literatură şi Artă “Regele Carol II”, 1940, 60.

9 Panaitescu, P. P. Istoria românilor. Reproduction of the 1943 edition. Bucharest Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică, 1990, 60.

10 Pârvan, Vasile. Inceputurile vieţii romane la gurile Dunării. 2nd edition. Bucharest Editura Ştiinţifică, 1974,130.

11 Iorga, N. Istoria românilor pentru poporul românesc. Vol 1. Bucharest: Editura Minerva, 1993, 35.

12 Ibid., 51.

13 Giurescu, C. C. Istoria românilor. Vol. 1. 5th edition, 1946, 269.

14 Istoria României. Vol. 1. Bucharest Editura Academiei, 1960, 776, 808.

15 Istoria României. Ed. Miron Constantinescu, Constantin Daicoviciu, and Stefan Pascu. Bucharest Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică, 1969, 103—106.

16 Istoria poporului român. Ed. Andrei Ojetea. Bucharest: Editura Ştiinţifică, 1970, 108.

17 Bârzu, Ligia. Continuitatea creaţiei materiale şi spirituale a poporului român pe teritoriul fostei Dacii Bucharest Editura Academiei, 1979, 82.

18 Ibid., 86; Bârzu, Ligia and Stelian Brezeanu. Originea şi continuitatea românilor. Arheologie şi tradiţie istorică. Bucharest Editura Enciclopedică, 1991,213.

19 Manea, Mihai, Adrian Pascu and Bogdan Teodorescu. Istoria románilor. Din cele mal vechi timpuri pînă la revoluţia din 1821 (The history of the Romanians: From the earliest times to the revolution of 1821). Bucharest: Editura Didactică şi Pedagogică, 1992, 173.

20 Significant for the limits within which the discussion could evolve is the work of Kurt Horedt (a German archaeologist of Romanian origin, professor at the University of Cluj, later settled in Germany): Siebenbürgen im Frühmittelalter (Transylvania in the early Middle Ages). Bonn, 1986. Horedt, whose familiarity with the eady medieval archaeology of the Romanian area is beyond question, considers that in the seventh century Transylvania was completely Slavicized, that the Slav period continued into the tenth century, and that the Romanian element only appeared from the ninth century. I mention his work not to claim that he is right, merely to show that the problem is too complicated to be dealt with in categorical judgements without appeal. The most recent contribution on the matter is the article “Dridu” by Eugenia Zaharia, in Enciclopedia arheologiei şi istoriei vechi a României (Encyclopaedia of the archaeology and eady history of Romania). Coordinated by Constantin Preda. Vol. 2. Bucharest Editura Enciclopedică, 1996, 81—83. This repeats the interpretation of the culture as strictly Romanian and perfecdy unitary over an area larger than that of present-day Romania. Ion Nestor is mentioned, but Constantin Daicoviciu and Kurt Horedt are not. Probably they did not merit a response, since they did not think as one ought to think!

21 Programul Partidului Comunist Român de făurire a societăţii socialiste multilateral dezoltate şi înaintare a Romániei spre comunism. Bucharest: Editura Politică, 1975, 28.

22 Tagliavini, Cario. Originile limbilor neolatine. Editura Ştiinţifică şi Enciclopedică, 1977, 300.

© Central European University Press, 2001

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