[Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [Index] [HMK Home] Lajos Kazar: Facts against fiction

4. Is There Any Evidence of Continuity?

The first known inhabitants of Transylvania, described by Herodotos, in the 6th-4th centuries B.C., were the Agathyrses, probably an Iranian people. They left many material remains in Transylvania and also in Moldavia. In the third and second centuries B.C., a considerably dense population of Celts were living in Transylvania and in the Banat. Settlements and cemeteries used by them were discovered, so far, at 140 places.[4] The Celts disappeared towards the end of the second century B.C.; they were replaced by the Dacians.

The Balkan peninsula south of the Danube was, during the last centuries B.C. conquered by the Roman empire. North of the river the Getae and the Dacians lived and seem to have prospered in that epoch. The development of the technology of iron and gold, as well as commercial contacts with Greek and roman merchants strengthened their economy. In the first half of the 1st century B.C., a king called Burebista (also ,,Buruista" etc.) organized the Dacians and several other populations into a powerful empire.

In what year Burebista seized power is not known. In Istoria României in date, (ed. by C. Giurescu, 1971, p. 26), the year 70 B.C. is given without any further comment.

Towards the end of the 1st century A.D., another strong ruler, Decebal, united the Dacian tribes again into a centralized empire. He fought the Romans with some success, but these defeated him finally and made him to pay tributes. In the first decade of the second century A.D., emperor Trajan waged wars with the Dacians with the aim to conquer their country and succeeded on 106 A.D. Decebal committed suicide and his army dispersed. The new Roman colony north of the lower Danube was called Dacia Traiana; it comprised what is now Oltenia, parts of the Banat and of Transylvania. It was dominated by the roman empire until 275 A.D., i.e., for about 170 years.

Outside the colony, several barbarian populations, Goths and other Old Germanic peoples, Sarmatians, free Dacians, Carps, etc., were living and conducted several incursions into the territory dominated by the Romans. Archaeological finds show that these peoples settled in the area of the former colony after 275 A.D.

In the following century, the Dacians disappear from the scene of history.

Much has been written about the question of the degree of Romanization of the Dacians within the colony of Dacia Traiana; we refer here only to A. Du Nay, 1977, chapters 3 and 4.

About the language of the Dacians.

Very little is preserved of this language. Since it is assumed that it was related to Thracian, some have tried to find similarities between Rumanian and Thracian, which is somewhat better known. Also the designation ,,Thraco-Dacian,, has been used, although it is questionable whether this is really justified.

I. Russu has compiled a Rumanian-Thracian dictionary with almost 200 Thracian words (Russu, 1967, pp. 138-143). Among these, there are 11 words whose Rumanian counterpart is considered to derive from the substratum of Rumanian, (for example copil; child', Thracian -centus, -poris, tap 'he goat', Thracian Buzo-, Cozeil-; spinz 'hellebore', Thracian prodiarna; etc.) If this substratum were Thracian, one would expect some correspondence between these words. This is, however, not the case; there is not a single Rumanian word which reliably could be shown to originate from what is left to us from Thracian.

,,The fact that we do not possess ancient or medieval attestations of the autochthonous lexical elements is a grave gap in the documentary material which could throw light upon the problem of the beginnings and the ancient phase in the development of the Rumanian and Albanian idioms and popular communities" (Russu, 1967, p. 215).

Thus, although this could be caused by chance, the number of preserved Thracian words being very low, it must be stated that there is no evidence to support the idea that Rumanian developed from Thracian. The same applies, of course, to Dacian.

After 275 A.D.

It is reasonable to assume that a part of the inhabitants of Dacia Traiana remained in the province after its abandonment by the Romans. This was the case in Noricum, Raetia, Britannia, not to mention the Balkan provinces. In the case of Dacia, no one has proved that these spoke Latin, but we may assume it. In all the above mentioned provinces, however, the Romans who remained in their places after the retreat of the Roman army and administration, were sooner or later assimilated to the conquering populations and disappeared latest after some centuries.

In post-roman Dacia Traiana, clear-cut evidence (archaeological remains) of Carps and free Dacians, Sarmatians, Goths, Gepidae, Huns and, somewhat later Avars and Slavs were found. On the basis of the fact that many material remains show the influence of roman style and customs, some have argued that these remains indicate a roman population. This cannot be accepted, however, because earthenware of roman provincial style, a few objects with Latin inscriptions, roman coins and other similar finds are described not only from South-East Europe but from almost every part of the European continent. Coins for example, are very numerous not only north of the lower Danube but north of the entire course of this river as well as north of the river Rhine; earthenware of Roman style was not only used but also imitated in far away areas. The ,,roman provincial" style was, in other words, widespread in Europe.

5. The Testimony of the Rumanian Language

As we have seen, neither historical records nor archaeological finds confirm the theory of continuity. These conclusions are, however, negative and we have to ask now where, then, did the Rumanian language develop and what was the nature of that language which, by Romanization, evolved into modern Rumanian?

Although many details remain to be clarified, the analysis of the Rumanian language gives decisive information regarding the principal questions. This has been discovered long ago by linguists; it is sufficient to mention here Gaston Paris and Ovid Densusianu. We can here, of course, only give the main points, a more detailed discussion is found in A. Du Nay 1977. The question to be put is the following: Does the Rumanian language, as it is today, show vestiges which indicate that its speakers lived north of the lower Danube already beginning with the end of the 3rd century A.D. (when the Romans abandoned Dacia-Traiana), in the vicinity of Old Germanic, Avar and other migratory populations? This should be the case if the theory of continuity were the true explanation of the present existence of the Rumanians north of the lower Danube. But this is not the case.

Instead, there are a large number of features in Rumanian which must have developed in a community living in the Roman empire several centuries after the abandonment of Dacia-Traiana by the Romans and in the vicinity of populations very different from those which once lived north of the lower Danube.

The construction of the perfect with the help of the verb habeo developed in Late Latin, after the 4th century; e.g. episcopum invitatum habes ,,you have invited the bishop", Rumanian ai invitat pe episcop.

A number of new expressions and lexical elements were formed in Late Latin, as for example Sclavus, Sclavinus ,,Slav,, Rumanian schiau; primo vere ,,sprin"G Rumanian primavara (cf. Italian primavera), aeramen (instead of classical Latin aes) ,,metal, copper"; Rumanian arama ,,copper" (cf. Italian rame ,,copper").

Lexical elements shared by Rumanian and northern Italian dialects

Already Gaston Paris pointed out the importance of these elements, which in many cases are exclusively found in Rumanian and certain Italian dialects. O. Densusianu gives a detailed description and concludes that these are vestiges from an epoch in which the ancestors of the Rumanians lived in close contacts with the population in northern Italy. We mention here only some of them:

From Latin expanticare, in Venetian and Milanese spantegar, in Rumanian spînteca ,,to rip up"; from Latin implenire, Friulian impleni, Rumanian împlini" to fill, to carry out"; Venetian ol cel della bocha, Rumanian cerul gurei ,,palate", lit. ,,the sky of the mouth"; Latin reus ,,guilty", in the dialect of Campobasso re ,,bad", in Rumanian rau ,,bad", etc.

Vestiges in the Rumanian language of Late Latin features and words shared with northern Italian dialects indicate that the ancestors of the speakers of Rumanian lived, at least until the 7th century A.D., in close contacts with the Latin-speaking population of Italy. From the abandonment of Dacia-Traiana in 275 A.D., however, the Danubian limes was the frontier between the Roman empire and the ,,Barbaricum". Controlled by the roman army, it was a military border, with fortifications, whose chief function was defending the empire against invading armies from the north. Although not totally impermeable, this frontier did not permit everyday contacts between the population of the roman empire in the south and those living north of the lower Danube. Consequently, the phonetical, morphological and lexicological changes of the 3rd-6th centuries A.D. in the Latin language could not have penetrated into the language of a population living north of the lower Danube. The domination for some period of time during the 4th century of a strip of territory along the lower Danube does not change this (cf., for more details, Du Nay, 1977, pp. 214-216).

The relation between Rumanian and Albanian

To the pre-Latin elements of Rumanian belong about 120 words which may be divided into several well-defined semantic groups, as for example parts of the human body, terms of kinship, plants and animals and, most significantly, shepherd words, the largest group. These words were used by a population living close to nature, in the mountains, whose main occupation was the raising of animals (sheep). Expressions designating urban phenomena are absent from this group of words. The question is now, what population spoke the language from which these pre-Latin elements survived in Rumanian?

There are no historical records to give any indication in this respect. As we have seen, elements of Thracian, Dacian and other ancient languages preserved in Greek and Latin texts are of no help, since there is not a single reliable correspondence between these words and Rumanian ones. The language once spoken somewhere in South-East Europe from which Rumanian originates is simply not preserved in writing.

There is, however, another Balkan language, extant today, in which most (about 80%) of the above mentioned lexical elements do exist. This is one of the most ancient languages of the Balkan peninsula: Albanian. Such words are, for example, Rumanian buza, Albanian buzë 'lip; rim, edge'; Rumanian baci, Albanian bac 'shepherd in charge of a sheepfold'; Rumanian galbeaza, câlbeazâ, Albanian gëlbazë, këlbazë 'sheep pox; liverworst'; Rumanian vatra, Albanian vater, vatra 'hearth, fireplace; house, dwelling' and many others (cf. A. Du Nay, 1977, pp.62-70.; A. Rosetti, ed., Istoria limbii române, Edit. Acad. RSR, vol. II, 1969, pp. 327-356).


Number of words:

Also in Albanian
Not in Albanian
Man: parts of the human body,sex, age, family relations
Plants and animals
Clothes; human dwellings; tools;
Clothes; human dwellings; tools;Nature, geography; popular mythology; Other nouns, adverbs and verbs

Table 1. Pre-Latin words in Rumanian (After A. Du Nay: The Early History of the Rumanian language, 1977, p. 61, table 3).

There are also similarities between the two languages concerning phonology and morphology. Thus the definite article occurs at the end of the noun in both languages and, what is more remarkable:

,,these two languages coincide in the use of this element of speech in the smallest details of its syntactical position, which contradicts the assumption of an independent evolution in each of these two languages" (E. Cabej: ,,Unele probleme ale istoriei limbii albanese", in Studii si cercertari lingvistice, X, 4, 1959,p. 531).

Out of a large number of similarities concerning phraseology and lexical elements, we mention the following:

'It is proper, it is convenient' may be expressed by Rumanian Ce cu cale and Albanian isthe me udhe which literally mean 'it is with way'.

'That hurts me': Rumanian îmi vine rau, Albanian i erdhi keq 'it comes me bad'.

'Uvula': Rumanian omusor, Albanian njerith 'little man'.

To strengthen the sense of a noun, 'great thing' (Rumanian mare lucru, Albanian pun'e madhe) may be added; etc.

The Latin elements of these languages also show similar features, as for instance

parallel changes of meaning:

Latin falx 'sickle, scythe' - Rumanian falca, Albanian felqine 'jaw, cheek'.

Latin draco 'dragon' - Rumanian drac, Albanian dreq 'devil'.

Latin horreo 'I fear, I am shocked' - Rumanian, urasc, Albanian urrej 'I hate'.

Latin veteranus 'soldier who has served his time' - Rumanian batrin, Albanian vjetër 'old', and many others.

Albanian and Rumanian are now, of course, different languages. This is explained by the difference in the degree of Romanization and by the different history of the two population after their gradual separation not very long after the Roman influence. While the ancestors of the Rumanians were almost totally Romanized, those of the Albanians only borrowed a number of Latin elements but retained most of their own language.

The common elements as regards the ancient word stock, the similarities in the structure of the two languages and in the Latin elements indicate that the ancestors of the Rumanians and of the Albanians were the same, or very closely related. Thus, if we know the territory in which the ancient Albanians were living, we may also know the approximate areas of the ancient Rumanians.

According to G. Stadtmüller: Forschungen zur albanischen Frühgeschichte (1966; pp. 95-95, 120) the Mati district in northern Albania and adjacent areas were the territories of the Albanians during the first centuries A.D. E. Cabej, in ,,Le problème du territoire de la formation de la langue albanaise,,, Bull. AIESEE, (1972; p. 99), concludes that these territories were the same as present-day Albania and, probably in an earlier period of time, also Dardania. Thus, the ancestors of the Rumanians were living in the mountainous areas of the central parts of the Balkan peninsula, in Old Serbia and adjacent areas.

6. Summary

Time has come when the theory of continuity, refuted by eminent Rumanian scholars as Ovid Densusianu and having served its original purpose, should be abandoned and the advent of a new era in Rumanian historical thinking should not be further delayed. The Rumanian people is not served by those who ,,seek to denature the facts and to deceive themselves" (cf. O. Densusianu, Histoire de la langue roumaine, 1901; in the 1975 edition, p. 26; see above, chapter 2) but deserves a balanced, objective and modern description of its troubled past. As regards the legitimate rights of the Rumanians for which so many generations of patriots have fought, these would not be diminished by such a change.

Although not autochthonous in Transylvania, Rumanians have lived at least in some parts of that country for almost 800 years which must be sufficient for that ,,historical right" which so many historians and politicians tried, wrongly, to derive from a legendary origin from Trajan's soldiers and the Dacians. This implies the right of living in Transylvania, but not the justification of suppressing other nationalities who not only existed earlier in Transylvania but also played a very important role in the development of Rumanian national culture.

There is nothing wrong in emphasizing the positive aspects of the history of one's own nation and to try to bring up the youth in love for their nation and its past. But it is not, as stated by Densusianu, real patriotism to conceal the truth and deceive oneself. The propagation of the theory of continuity conceals many elementary facts and stresses obviously erroneous statements. Meanwhile opposite views, being considered as chauvinistic, are not tolerated. The Rumanians are said to be the only people ,,at home" in South-East Europe, all others are called ,,later colonists", and ,,strangers". Moreover, Rumanians ,,never needed anything from strangers and will never need anything from them in the future"! This is a Herrenvolk-attitude which denies any other people any place in the land of the Rumanians. How can the basic human rights of the other nationalities living in Rumania (about 15% of the total population) be guaranteed in such an atmosphere?

Thus the problem of Roman continuity north of the lower Danube, a question of history and linguistics, is being transformed into an actual conflict not on a juridical but on the cultural and psychological levels. The Rumanians hear and read daily that they belong to a glorious, brave nation which lived and worked and fought in Rumania for several millennia while the members of the national minorities are taught that their ancestors were intruders, accepted by the ,,Rumanian masses" as colonists and they, consequently, are not autochthonous in the country, only immigrants, strangers.

And all this is built upon an obsolete, several hundred years old theory which was proven wrong a long time ago.


Alexandru, I. 'Transilvania'. Tribuna României; a magazine published by the association ,,România", red. P. Chelmez; Bucharesti VII, No. 127, February 15. 1978, p. 1.

Asztalos, M. (ed.) A történeti Erdély. Budapest, 1936 (740 p.).

Barta ,G. Az Erdélyi Fejedelemség születése; ed. Gondolat, Budapest, 1979 (282p.).

Cabej, E. Le problème du territoire de la formation de la langue albanaise. Bulletin AIESEE, 10, No 2, 1972, pp. 71-99.

Calinescu, G. Istoria literaturii române. Compendiu. Editura pentru literatura, Bucharest, 1968 (429 p.).

Condurachi, E., Daicoviciu, C. The Ancient Civilization of Romania, Barrie and Jenkins, London; Nagel Publishers, Geneva, 1971 (250 p.).

Constantinescu, M., Daicoviciu, C., Pascu, S.: Istoria României, Compendiu. Editura didactica si pedagogica, Bucuresti, 1969 (728 p.). (Third edition in 1974, ed. S. Pascu 559 p.).

Curticâpeanu, V.; Formarea natiunii române si a statului national unitar român. File de istorie, Editura politica, Bucuresti. 1974 (92 p.).

Daicoviciu, C. Dacica. Bibliotheca musei Napocensis, Cluj, 1969 (610 p.)

Densusianu, O.: Opere: II Lingvistica. Histoire de la langue roumaine. I. Les origines. II. Le seizieme siècle. Ed. B. Cazacu, v. Rusu, I. Serb, Editura Minerva, Bucuresti, 1975, XVIII (1045 p.).

Dimitrescu, Florica (ed.) Istoria limbii române; Editura didactica si pedagogica, Bucharest, 1978 (380 p.).

Du Nay, A.: The Early History of the Rumanian Language. Edward Sapir Monograph Series in Language, Culture, and Cognition 3. Jupiter Press, Lake Bluff, XI (275 p.)., 1977.

Fontes Historiae Dacoromanae, vol. I; ed. V. Iliescu et al; XXIV (791 p.). Edit. Republicii Populare Romîne, Bucuresti, 1964; vol. II ed. H. Mihaescu et al., XXII. (768 p.), Edit. Republicii Socialiste România, Bucuresti 1970.

Friedwagner, M.: ,,Über die Sprache und Heimat der Rumänen in ihrer Frühzeit." Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie, Halle, LIV, 1934, pp. 641-715.

Giurescu, C. (ed.): Istoria României in date, Editura Enciclopedica Româna, Bucuresti, 1971 (525 p.).

Giurescu, C., Giurescu, D.: Istoria românilor din cele mai vechi timpuri pîna astazi, 2nd edition, Editura Albatros, Bucuresti, 1975 (1038 p.).

Grecu, V.: Scoala Ardeleana si unitatea limbii române literare. Editura Facla, Timisoara, 1973 (141 p.).

Illyés, E.: Erdély változása. Mitosz és valóság. (The change of Transylvania. Myth and reality.) Aurora, München, 1976, 2nd edition, 426 p. - An English version of this book (National Minorities in Rumania) will appear later.

Iordan, I. (ed.): Istoria stiintelor in România. Lingvistica. Editurâ Academiei Republicii Socialiste România, Bucuresti, 1975 (175 p.).

Iordan, I.: Alexandru I. Philippide. Editura Stiintifica, Bucuresti, (157 p.).

Jancsó, B.: Erdély története (The History of Transylvania). Editura Minerva, Cluj-Kolozsvár, 1931 (389 p.).

Kálmán, B.: The World of Names. A Study in Hungarian Onomatology; Ed. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1978 (199 p.).

Kiss, L.: Földrajzi nevek etimológiai szótára (An etymological dictionary of geographical names), Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1978, pp. 726.

Kniezsa, I.: ,,Keletmagyarország helynevei", in Magyarok és románok, ed. J. Deér and L. Gáldi; Edit. Atheneum, Budapest, 1943, pp. 111-313.

Maior, P. (ed. F. Fugariu): Istoria pentru începutul românilor în Dacia. Vol. I-II. Editura Albatros, Bucuresti, 1970, vol. I, 279 p., vol. II, 293 p. (A new edition of P. Maior's principal work published in 1812 in Buda, the Hungarian capital).

Meier, V.: Ceausescus Freude an den Dakern. Geschichtsthesen und politische Zwecke. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, (West Germany), July 18, 1978.

Pippidi, D.M. (ed.) Dictionar de istorie veche a României. Editura Stiintifica si enciclopedica, Bucuresti, 1976 (627 p.)

Protase, D.: Problema continuitatii în Dacia în lumina arheologiei si numismaticii. Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România, Bucuresti, 1966, (Biblioteca de arheologie IX), 249 p., (with a summary in French).

Rosetti, Al.: Istoria limbii române de la origini pîna in secolul al XVII-lea. Editura pentru literatura, Bucuresti, 1968 (843 p.).

Rosetti, Al.: (ed.) Istoria limbii române, vol. I, 1965, Editura Academiei Republicii Populare Române, vol. II, 1969, Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste Romania; vol. I, 437 p., vol. II., 464 p.

Russu, I. I.: Limba traco-dacilor, (2nd edition), Editura Academiei Stiintifica, Bucuresti, 1976, 253 p.

Stadtmüller, G.: Forschungen zur albanischen Frühgeschichte. Albanische Forschungen 2 (2nd edition); Edit. Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1966.

Suciu, C.: Dictionar istoric al localitatilor din Transilvania, vol. I, 1967, 433 p., vol, II, 1968, 447 p.; Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România, Bucuresti.

Supplex Libellus Valachorum. Translated and commented by K. Köllö; introductory study by I. Pervain and K. Köllö (in Hungarian), Editura Kriterion, Bucuresti, 1971 (Series Téka), 127 p.

Tamás, L.: Romains, Romans et Roumains dans l'historie de Dacie Trajane. Études sur l'Europe Centre-Orientale I. Budapest, 1936.

[4] Dictionar de istorie veche a României, ed. D. M. Pippidi, Bucharest, 1976, p. 147.

 [Table of Contents] [Previous] [Next] [Index] [HMK Home] Lajos Kazar: Facts against fiction