The Great Continuity Question


Well, folks, as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve now put myself out there on Quora, and so I knew it was only going to be a matter of time before some weightier questions than Where can I find hot Romanian chicks? were going to be asked.

Today, I thought I’d add my two cents on what is one of the most significant questions to face Romania in the 20th century, which is “Whose country is it anyway?”

This is widely known as the “Continuity Question” and it had enormous impact on both what happened on December 1, 1918 and how Edward Bernays was able to convince Woodrow Wilson to convince the Allies to formulate and sign the Treaty of Trianon that awarded Transylvania, the Banat, and other Hungarian territories to Romania.

So… what exactly happened in ancient history, and who’s right?

Note: I’m going to use the acronym TTTINR below to mean “The territory that is now Romania” just so we’re clear that I’m not referring to either ethnicity or political control.

The Hungarian Perspective

The Hungarians arrived in TTTINR right around the year 1,000 AD. The Hungarians were successful warriors and indisputably conquered (what is now the country of) Hungary, much of TTTINR, and a huge swathe of territory that is now Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

In TTTINR, the Hungarians found a mostly empty land without any organized kingdoms. The few peasants wandering about were a mishmash of Goths, Gepids, Pechenegs, Bulgars, and Kumans. The Hungarians quickly imposed administrative control and never relinquished it for more than 900 years.

Along the way, turmoil further south led to (proto) Romanians being pushed north into TTTINR. Over time, some of them were disloyal and fled eastward to form Moldova. As more time passed, the illiterate Romanians under Hungarian control in TTTINR bred like rabbits to become the majority of the population.

Therefore, the 900-year stewardship of Hungarians over TTTINR combined with the fact that Romanians are interlopers from the south and east means that Hungary has a clear and uncontested legitimacy to western TTTINR. Furthermore, the Romanian language is a modern blend of mixed-up dialects and was not the primary language spoken by the people living in TTTINR when the Hungarians arrived.

For a far lengthier and more detailed version of the Hungarian version of events (in English), click here.

The Romanian Perspective

After being repulsed one time, the Romans returned to Dacia in western TTTINR in 105 and were triumphant. The Dacians were a brave and noble people that were heroic in every way, but once they realized the superiority of the Romans, they instantly adopted Roman ways. And since unconquered Dacians existed until at least 275, they contributed their courageous spirit to what would later become the “Romanized Dacians”, otherwise known as Romanians.

Although Rome officially withdrew from Dacia in 296, plenty of Romans stayed behind. And despite being invaded by all kinds of people, starting with the Huns (376), Taifals, Tervingians, Lombards, Bulgars (Bulgarians), Scythians, Sarmatians, Avars, and Slavs, the Romanian people fiercely clung to their language and identity and were well entrenched when the Hungarians showed up around the year 1,000.

Unfortunately, the doughty Romanians were unable to repel the Hungarians, but they never gave up on their identity. Therefore, TTTINR was always Romanian and always should be.

My Perspective

What is indisputable is that something rather weird happened in TTTINR that, as far as I know, has never been duplicated elsewhere. That is, an empire (in this case, the Romans) conquered a territory and imposed their language but none of their culture.

Roman culture involved things like temples (like the one they built in Sarmizegetusa), excellent roads, aqueducts, public bathing, running water, coinage, homosexuality, debate, the concept of citizenship, and thousands of other things that never were adopted by Romanians. But it is also true that the Romanian language is, by far, the least-changed Latin language spoken in Europe today.

In other words, the Roman language (Latin) was preserved faithfully, but next to none of the Roman culture was.

As for the rest, there’s a huge problem because there are almost no records of any kind as to what happened between 296 and the year 681 when the First Bulgarian Empire (see my post here) arrived on the scene. The first Romanian king, Basarab, broke away from the 1st Bulgarian Empire to form Wallachia, and then the Byzantine Romans broke up the 1st Bulgarian Empire in 1018.

Note: The Bulgars/First Bulgarian Empire are often referred to as “South Slavs”. They were indisputably responsible for introducing the Cyrillic alphabet to TTTINR.

There are only two contemporaneous “history” books that cover the missing period, and they’re full of stories about magic, wizards, and mythical creatures. Rome was essentially the only source of documentation, and it had a huge fight on its hands to keep its empire together, ultimately splitting into two empires by the year 285.

Furthermore, all the petty kingdoms and chiefdoms in Europe north of Greece were largely illiterate prior to around the year 1300. They weren’t very well organized, in the modern sense, so 99% of what we know about the Dacians is from the Romans, not from the Dacians themselves. Therefore, it’s almost impossible to know what they were doing, what they thought, or what actually happened.

And if that weren’t complicated enough, Rome actually had two different conquests in TTTINR. One was the western TTTINR province of Dacia and the other was the southern and eastern part of TTTINR called Moesia. Moesia was formally conquered in 89 AD and wasn’t relinquished until nearly the year 600 when it was then part of the Eastern Roman Empire, not the Western. So parts of TTTINR were ruled by the Byzantine Romans while other parts were ruled by the (classic) Western Romans.

But wait, there’s more! The western part of Moesia was in what is now Serbia and Bulgaria, directly south of the Danube River that forms the southern border of TTTINR. The Dacians had ruled over this area before being pushed back by Romans in 89 AD. So there were Romanized Dacians in Moesia in 100 AD but pagan Dacians in TTTINR across the river at the same time.

Whether or not modern-day Romanians were “refugees” from south of the Danube (and therefore outside of TTTINR) or a combination of Latin-speaking Dacians living in the area that were later amplified by Romanians coming (back) in from Moldova or something else is almost impossible to know with certainty. Almost all the scholarship on the subject is from highly partisan sources.

But here’s what we do know for sure:

  1. The Romans directly controlled TTTINR for around 500 years.
  2. The Byzantine (Eastern) Romans were strongly influential in TTTINR for an additional 500 years.
  3. The First Bulgarian Empire was the first post-Roman organized and literate power to control TTTINR and was the genesis of the first Romanian kingdom (Wallachia).
  4. The First Bulgarian Empire introduced both (Eastern Orthodox) Christianity to TTTINR as well as the Cyrillic alphabet (that was used in TTTINR until 1848).
  5. Moldova was founded by Romanians who broke away from Hungary, and may have contributed a significant number of immigrants back into TTTINR later on.
  6. The Hungarians ruled parts of TTTINR from 1000-1920 AD. and for a brief period during WW2.
  7. The oldest documents listing (potentially!) Romanian names is from the 14th century.
  8. The oldest documents written in the Romanian language are from the 15th century.
  9. All available records show a significant, if not majority, population of Romanians (or Latin-speaking peoples who may or may not have been one ethnicity) living in Hungarian-ruled TTTINR.
  10. Riding a Dead Horse

    Now, as far as I am concerned, I don’t really care who is officially the ruler of an area. In modern-day Cluj, I know plenty of Hungarians who are proud of their language, culture, music, food, and identity and that has nothing to do with whether the city is part of Romania or the Hungarian Kingdom of Transylvania.

    Likewise, I’ve met elderly Romanians who were proud of their language, culture, music, food, and identity even when Cluj was part of the Hungarian Kingdom of Transylvania.

    The only thing I do care about is whether people are allowed to preserve their ethnic and cultural identity. I abhor repression, murder, church closures, school closures, forbidding people to speak their language, and all those other horrible things that both Hungarians and Romanians (and Russians, Turks, et al) have indulged in over the centuries.

    But we’re no longer living in either the Roman days or the Middle Ages where kingdoms and armies determined the religion, language, and culture of the people. Romania has plenty of problems, but repressing Hungarian or other ethnic identities is not one.

    And, frankly, I think it’s stupid that Romanians in Bucharest should dictate what Romanians should be doing in Transylvania, as I’ve written about many times.

    World War 1, the Treaty of Trianon, and other events like the relinquishing of North Transylvania during WW2, abandoning Moldova and North Bucovina to the Soviet Union, and the bloody takeover of Odessa (in today’s Ukraine) by Romanian forces were all really horrible events for millions of people. They suck, I loathe them, and I’m sorry they ever happened.

    But those days are over, and yet this continuity theory continues to poison a lot of people’s minds. It doesn’t matter if Hungarians arrived in the year 1000 and found empty fields or whether there vast numbers of Romanized Dacians already there. What matters is that we’re in the year 2017 and the days of cultural and linguistic repression are over. Both Romania and Hungary are in the EU, and there’s more than enough space for everyone to be themselves.

    I stand by my post from 2014, and so far I’ve been proven right while George Soros, Jens Stoltenberg, Philip Breedlove, and many other experts have been shown to be dead wrong. Country borders are only going to get smaller in the future, not bigger, so there will never be a new Hungarian Empire or reunification of Romania and Moldova.

    The only continuity question anyone needs to ask in Romania is whether or not they’re going to preserve their cultural identity or turn into yet another KFC eating, MTV watching, mall shopping, blue jeans wearing, iPhone using generic Westerner.

    AND NOW YOU KNOW!

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Michael Dediu says:

    As shown by the etymology of the word, the plăcintă has a Roman origin, and dates from when Romania was a part of the Roman Empire, see placenta cake.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pl%C4%83cint%C4%83

    Before the introduction of maize in Europe in the 16th century, mămăliga had been made with millet flour, known to the Romans as pulmentum.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C4%83m%C4%83lig%C4%83

    In one article you say that in Chișinău plăcinte are the favorite foods, then contradict yourself that Roman culture did not take in Transylvania. Plăcinte are a Romanian national food, as is mămaliga, and both descend from Roman dishes.

    This is why Transylvania is Romania, as is Moldova (including Basarabia).

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  2. Hash says:

    ”Both Romania and Hungary are in the EU, and there’s more than enough space for everyone to be themselves.”
    Well, it deserves to mention that the official approach in regard to Moldova is this precisely: we will ”unite” when Moldova will be part of EU.
    Not sure if hungarian officials felt the same when Ro joined EU…

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  3. Interesting post. You said, “The only continuity question anyone needs to ask in Romania is whether or not they’re going to preserve their cultural identity or “. I hope the Romanians do preserve their cultural identity. But the danger from the West is self-inflicted by the Romanians themselves adopting Western ways and values, or lack of values depending on your point of view. I think the more dangerous threat is from the leadership of the EU, Merkel et.al. who are enabling and encouraging the invasion of Europe by those who practice Islam.

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  4. Ovidiu Cel American says:

    Mi a plăcut foarte mult acest articol .Ironia sorții face ca am trăit în SUA 6 ani și am încercat sa înțeleg istoria Americii așa Cum o descriu oamenii de acolo. Am locuit în North Carolina Și în Ohio așa ca știu de diferențele dintre North și South. Îmi dau seama cât de complicată este istoria de acolo și cât de puțini oameni din Europa realizează asta. Sunt impresionat ca te a preocupat istoria românilor care este câteodată complicată și lipsită de surse veridice. Felicitări și pentru atitudinea pozitiva de care avem nevoie în viitor. Hey dacă se unește România cu R Moldova poate vii și pe la Cluj fără alte complicații! See you there my friend.

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  5. Romansson says:

    Ah, yes… the age-old issue of Romanian continuity in the TTTINR, the seed of discord between Romanian and Hungarian historians and nationalists.

    To debate the topic is pointless from a practical point of view, but either way it is interesting to speculate on the evolution of the people that form Romania today.

    Both the Hungarian and the Romanian claims are wrong from certain points of view. And this is why:

    the Hungarians speak about empty land, waiting there to be claimed. Not even Siberia was empty during the Russian conquest. Indeed, they (the Hungarians) have, without a doubt, found various people inhabiting the large itra-Carpathic depression: Slavs, Goths, Avars etc. and, according to the Gesta Hunorum et Hungarorum (the Chronicle of Anonymus), the Vlach (Blach or Blachumen) who were shepherds in service to the Romans.

    The Romanian claim is frail. It emphasized too much on Daco-Roman fantasy, yet it lacks substantial proof and certain key explainations. The lack of information relating the Dacians gave birth to a phenomenon of Daco-mania, with wild speculations and conspiracy theories about how the Dacians were the envy of Europe and the true parents of the Latins. Today it’s hard to watch a Romanian history-related youtube clip without a “Dacian” forcing his points of view down the throats of the sporadic non-Romanians watching these videos: “we are DACIAN!!!!! History is a lie!”… (-_-) it seems that Ceauşescu’s Dacomania got deeply embedded in the fabric of Romania.

    The truth may be somewhere in the middle. The linguistic base of TTTINR is Latin. However, long before the arrival of the Hungarian wave, TTTINR was constantly trampled and inhabited by countless waves of migratories : Huns, Pechenegs, Goths, Avars, Gepids, Khazars, Bulgars, Cumans, Slavs and many others.

    In this scenario of constant change, how could a language stabilize and unite the communities around the area?

    Naturally, it took time for the Romanian language to mature, and to incorporate the linguistic heritage of the various migratories that settleled in present-day Romania. Nevertheless, the base of Romanian is Latin, a fact that is visible in Romanian grammar. Indeed, South Slavs played an important role in the Romanian language (especially in the lexic of archaic Romanian), Slavic words being “Latinized”. This is why Romanian is at least 20% Slavic.

    The Hungarians settling in Transylvania unknowingly stepped in what can me methaphorically considered a “bucket of fresh, wet cement” that was yet to solidify.

    So in the end we can talk about a continuity of Latin. The Romanians, however, are a mix of so many ethnicities, as proven by Romanian toponyms.

    To conclude, I will appologize for the size of my commentary, hoping that it is coherent. I am in no way a seasoned expert in this field of study, yet it’s a subject that I developed a taste for.

    P.S. : thank you for maintaining this blog and for the quality of its content! Also, Basarab the I’st, the founder of Wallachia apparently was Cuman :)

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