Historian Ioan-Aurel Pop looks at the origins of the Romanian people.
The Romanian people and language are of Latin origin, something historians and linguists have been researching for the last 200 years. One should also not forget, however, the contributions of other populations and ethnic groups to what is today the Romanian nation, because there is no such thing as a pure nation. More than establishing the ethnic origins of the Romanians, researchers have investigated the awareness of these origins in the minds of the Romanians throughout time. The ideas and social structures of a given period are both inherited and newly established and they influence what we know about ourselves. The tendency now is to look at nations critically and to disprove knowledge that was the product of its time. Critique has often led to criticism, but a more balanced view is necessary.
Historian Ioan-Aurel Pop is the president of the Romanian Academy and a specialist in the Middle Ages and mediaeval ethnic identities. Pop believes a critical look of the idea of nationhood is useful in order to better understand who the Romanians are today:
“We must study ourselves and see what makes us Romanian, what we inherited from our ancestors and what we did right and what we did wrong. We must admit, however, that we must have done something right because if we didn’t we would have fused into others, as was the case with the Huns, the Gepids, the Avars, the Pechenegs and the Cumans. For all our being split into little states that no one paid attention to, we have endured.”
Who are the Romanians? Pop has an answer based on the findings of researchers so far:
“If someone asks me who Romanians are, I will say that based on language, name and form of Christianization we are westerners. However, based on church organization, the use of Old Church Slavonic in church and the administration, the use of the Cyrillic alphabet and the influence of the East we are under Byzantine-Slavic influence. However, Latinity defines us, because in my opinion, in this part of Europe, language is the most striking proof of nationality.”
The core value of what it means to be Romanian today is the language, based on the most general definitions. The linguistic value given to the Romanian nation is not unique, as most nations around the world define themselves in this way. Ioan-Aurel Pop says that in the past, foreign travelers to these parts explicitly mentioned the Latin consciousness of their inhabitants.
“Sources must be taken as they are and we shouldn’t’ be bothered by that. The idea is not to choose the sources. If I want to have an image of the 16th century, I take all the sources and build the puzzle. I won’t be able to fill all the gaps, I will still need to use hypotheses, because that’s what a historian does. But I will try and include as many ‘full’ points as I can. If Francesco della Valle says he was hosted one night by the monks at Dealu monastery, in 1536, and there he learnt about the coming of emperor Trajan, the emperor of Rome, I have no reason not to believe him. But let’s ay I don’t believe it, and then I go and check other authors, who maybe put it differently. But many, in their Latin texts, say the same thing: “I’ve heard from Romanians that they are Roman”.
Latinity was the central idea of the birth of the modern Romanian state, but Pop says it was an old component of Romanian consciousness.
“The educated Moldavian boyars who arrived at the Jesuit schools in Poland found out that we are from Rome and went back and created the consciousness of Latinity. Intellectuals augmented this awareness, worked on it, because some peasant on top of the mountain wouldn’t know about the origin or that there was a first and a second founding. As the Cantacuzine chronicles say about medieval consciousness: the second founder was Negru-vodă, the first was Trajan. I'm talking about a certain elite, but I doubt that those Orthodox monks from the Dealu monastery in the Reformation era had the opportunity to attend higher education. The Italian soldiers and Francesco della Valle were treated to good food and great wine, and they left with a great impression. A Swedish delegation, in the 17th century, came here and tried to speak Latin with the Hungarian nobles in Oradea and Cluj. Nothing, they only spoke Hungarian. And as they were crossing the mountain to Rucăr, they were amazed that ordinary people spoke Latin, even the peasants. It's true it was a spoiled Latin, they said. For "lactis" they said "lapte", for "noctis" they said "noapte", but they managed to understand each other. When they asked for "aqua" they were given "apa".
Long history can reaffirm a truth or, on the contrary, deny it. The Latinity of the Romanians, criticized in various periods of time, however, resisted and has been periodically reconfirmed.