The terms Thraco-Roman and Daco-Roman refer to the culture and language of the Thracian and Dacian peoples who were incorporated into the Roman Empire and ultimately fell under the Roman and Latin sphere of influence.
Meaning and usage
The term was coined in 1901 by Ovid Densusianu, who used it to describe the "oldest epoch of the creation of the Romanian language", when the Vulgar Latin spoken in the Balkans between the 4th and 6th centuries, having its own peculiarities, had evolved into what is known as Proto-Romanian. By extension, historians started to use the term to mean the time period of the history of the Romanian people until the 6th century, which witnessed the cultural and linguistic Romanisation of many Daco-Thracian tribes. The territory where this process took place, consensually agreed to be near the Jireček Line is characterized as having two main peculiarities:
- A Christian space, consisting both of an ancient, sedentary Christianity inherited from the Roman world and a newer Christianity that emerged through the conversion to Christianity of the rest of Daco-Thracian tribes. The Christian spirit shaped the civilization of the people, influencing the inclusion into the Roman (and East Roman) political and state structures.
- A space of Latin language, that emerged from the provincial horizon of Rome. It gave birth to the Romance language and the Roman name, as preserved in the memory of modern Romanians, Aromanians, Megleno-Romanians and Istro-Romanians.
Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, is the first to describe the Getae as Thracian tribes. Several other sources from Antiquity claim the ethnic or linguistic identity of the two peoples. In his Geographia, Strabo again identifies the Getae as Thracians: “in the country of the Thracians and of those of their number who are Getae” and wrote about the two tribes (Dacians and Getae) as speaking the same language: “the language of the Daci is the same as that of the Getae”. Justin considers the Dacians to be the successors of the Getae. In his Roman history, Cassius Dio shows the Dacians to live on both sides of the Lower Danube. The ones south of the river (the area of Moesia, today's northern Bulgaria) called Moesians, while the ones north of the river are called Dacians. He argues that the Dacians are "either Getae or Thracians of Dacian race" (51.22) but also stresses the fact that he calls the Dacians with the name used "by the natives themselves and also by the Romans" and that he is "not ignorant that some Greek writers refer to them as Getae, whether that is the right form or not" (67.6).
In accordance with these testimonies some Romanian and Bulgarian scholars developed hypotheses and theories arguing for common cultural, ethnical or linguistical features in the space north of Haemus mountains where both the populations of Dacians and of Getae were located. The linguist Ivan Duridanov identified a "Dacian linguistic area"  in Dacia, Scythia Minor, Lower Moesia and Upper Moesia. The archaeologist Mircea Babeş speaks of a "veritable ethno-cultural unity" between the Getae and the Dacians while the historian and archaeologist Alexandru Vulpe finds a remarkable uniformity of the Geto-Dacian culture. There were also studies on Strabo's reliability and sources. Some of these interpretation have echoed in other historiographies.
The Romanian historian of ideas and historiographer Lucian Boia states: "At a certain point, the phrase Geto-Dacian was coined in the Romanian historiography to suggest a unity of Getae and Dacians". Lucian Boia takes a skeptical position and argues the ancient writers distinguished among the two people, treating them as two distinct groups of the Thracian ethnos. Boia contends that it would be naive to assume Strabo knew the Thracian dialects so well, alleging that Strabo had "no competence in the field of Thracian dialects". He also stresses that some Romanian authors cited Strabo indiscriminately.
His position was supported by other scholars. The historian and archaeologist G. A. Niculescu also criticized the Romanian historiography and the archaeological interpretation, particularly on the "Geto-Dacian" culture. Even those scholars whom consider Dacian, Getic and Thracian as distinct languages, agree about their descendence from an immediate common ancestor.
The occupied native population began to become more and more involved into the political life of the Empire. The tradition of Roman Emperors of Thracian origin dates back as early as the 3rd century. The first one was Regalianus, kinsman of the Dacian king Decebalus. By the 3rd century, the Thracians became an important part of the Roman army. The army used Latin as its operating language. This continued to be the case well after the 6th century, despite the fact that Greek was the common language of the Eastern empire. This was not simply due to tradition, but also to the fact that about half the Eastern army continued to be recruited in the Latin-speaking Danubian regions of the Eastern empire. An analysis of known origins of comitatenses in the period 350-476 shows that in the Eastern army, the Danubian regions provided 54% of the total sample, despite constituting just 2 of the 7 eastern dioceses: Dacia and Thracia. These regions continued to be the prime recruiting grounds for the East Roman army, e.g. the emperor Justin I (r. 518-27), father of Justinian I, a Latin-speaking Thracian peasant from Bederiana (an unlocalized village in an area to this day inhabited by the Vlachs of Serbia), who bore, like his companions and members of his family (Zimarchus, Dityvistus, Boraides, Bigleniza, Sabatius, etc.) a Thracian name, and who never learned to speak more than rudimentary Greek.
A number of Roman/East Roman emperors were Thraco-Romans: Regalianus, Galerius, Maximian, Maximinus Daia, Leo I, Aurelius Valerius Valens, Licinius, Constantine I the Great, Constantius III, Marcianus, Justin I, Justinian I, Justin II, Phocas.
The Roman name
Before 212, for the most part only inhabitants of the Italian peninsula (then a multi-ethnic region) held full Roman citizenship. Colonies of Romans established in other provinces, Romans (or their descendants) living in provinces, the inhabitants of various cities throughout the Empire, and small numbers of local nobles (such as client-kings) also held full citizenship. In contrast, the majority of provincials merely held limited Roman citizenship rights (if even that).
In 212, the Constitutio Antoniniana (Latin for "Constitution [or Edict] of Antoninus") was promulgated by the Roman Emperor Caracalla. The law declared that all free-born men of the Roman Empire were to be given full Roman citizenship and all free-born women of the Empire were given the same rights as Roman women. Caracalla passed this law mainly to increase the number of people available to tax and to serve in the legions (only full citizens could serve as legionaries in the Roman Army).
Caracalla's decree had thus effectively raised provincial populations to equal status with the city of Rome itself. The importance of this decree is historical rather than political. It set the basis for integration where the economic and judicial mechanisms of the state could be applied in all provinces, as it had been expanded earlier from Latium to all of Italy. Of course, integration did not take place uniformly. Societies already integrated within the Empire and situated in a central geographic position, such as Dacia, Moesia, Greece, etc., were favored by this decree, compared with those far away, too poor or just too alien such as Britain, Palestine or Egypt.
If, for the first centuries after the Roman conquest of Dacia, the antagonism between the occupied and free Dacian tribes and the Romans was clearly visible, as demonstrated by the episode when Emperor Galerius claimed that the name of the Empire should be changed into the "Dacian Empire", the new law providing Roman citizenship to all Roman subjects was an important factor for complete political and cultural integration into the Roman world, having, as one of its most important results, the adoption of the Roman name as autonym, with its later dialectical variants, either Român, Rumân, Aromân, Rumân or Rëmëri. The last clear anti-Roman stances are from the 4th century, when Constantine the Great defeated the Dacians, assuming the title Dacicus Maximus in 336, and the last Carpian attack in the 5th century.
The Dark Ages
In the 6th century, the Thraco-Roman populations witnessed the invasion of the Avars. Under the dominion of the Avars, the Slavs made their appearance.
From this time, the area experienced a state of cultural regression with the population becoming strongly rural, concentrating on agriculture and animal husbandry, but having thus the opportunity to preserve the unity of the language. The future would see the detachment of a part of this Romance speaking population, called Vlachs, from the main body of this Danubian Romanity, as a result of the historical circumstances created by the Slavic and Bulgar invasions. Although scattered throughout the Peninsula and reduced to more modest, rural life forms, this population preserved its ethnic identity and habits and continued to speak the same language.
The Empire's loss of territory was offset to a degree by consolidation and an increased uniformity of rule. Emperor Heraclius made Greek the official language during his reign, isolating the Latin-speaking populations of the Balkans. Despite its survival in the army and in legal and administrative terms, the use of Latin gradually declined.
Although some Byzantine control remained in cities along the southern coasts, all of the northern and central Balkans were virtually overrun by the Slavs. Nonetheless, in the isolated and ignored lands north of the Danube, the Slavs were gradually absorbed and Romanized, and the Latin character of the language was preserved. The influence of the Slavs was greater on the right bank of the Danube, where attracted by the rich urban areas to the south, overwhelmed the native population by weight of numbers in Dalmatia, Macedonia, Thrace, Moesia and Greece, turning those provinces into so-called “Sklavinias”. The impact of the arrival of the Bulgars in the 7th century, and the sequential establishment in the 9th century of a powerful state, was particularly great, having caused the end of the division of the Romanic population of the Balkan Peninsula started by the Avar-Slavic invasions. This process split the population into two sections: one found shelter in the north and its thick forests (80% of the territory), while the other moved southwards to the valleys of the Pindus and of the Balkan Mountains, causing an "ebb and tide" phenomenon of the native populations.
Christianity began gradually to spread as early as late antiquity, moving toward one of the northern borders of the “classical” world, thus making the Carpathian and Danubian territories part of a chain whereby Rome, its provinces, and the missionaries of the Eastern Church preached the word of the new faith from Iberia to the Caucasus.
Christianity was brought to the area by the occupying Romans. The Roman province had traces of all imperial religions, including Mithraism, but Christianity, a religio illicita, existed among some of the Romans.
The earliest evidence of Christianity is a grave inscription from the 2nd century, found in Napoca, bearing the formula Sit tibi terra levis ("Să-ţi fie ţărâna uşoară" in Romanian). The inscription was made by a "college" (a trading association) whose members originated from the Middle East. Among the other persons mentioned in the inscription, most of them bear Roman names, suggesting that Christianity had spread among the ranks of the soldiers as early as the 2nd century AD.
When the Romanians formed as a people, it is clear that they already had the Christian faith, as proved by archeological and linguistic evidence. Basic terms of Christianity are of Latin origin: such as church ("biserică" < basilica), God ("Dumnezeu" < Domine Deus), Easter ("Paşte" < Paschae), Pagan ("Păgân" < Paganus), Angel ("Înger" < Angelus), Cross ("Cruce" < Crux). Some of them, especially "Church" - Biserica are unique to Romanian Orthodoxy.
After Christianity became the official religion, the first bishoprics were created in the area, of which the main archbishoprics were at Singidunum (Belgrade), Viminacium (now Kostolač), Ratiaria (now Arčar, near Vidin), Marcianopolis (now Devnya), and Tomis (now Constanţa).
Very few traces can be found in the Romanian names that are left from the Roman Christianity after the Slavic influence began. All the names of the saints were preserved in Latin form: "Sântămăria" (Mary), "Sâmpietru" (Saint Peter), "Sângiordz" (Saint George) and "Sânmedru" (Saint Demetrius). The non-religious onomastic proof of pre-Christian customs, like "Sânziana" and "Cosânzeana" (Sancta Diana and Qua Sancta Diana) is only of anecdotal value in this context. Yet, the highly spiritualized places in the mountains, the processions, the calendars, and even the physical locations of the early churches were clearly the same with those of the Dacians. Even Saint Andrew is known locally as the Apostle "of the wolves" - with very old and large connotations, whereby the wolf's head was an ethnicon and a symbol of military and spiritual "fire" for Dacians.
Christianity in Scythia Minor
While Dacia was part of the Roman Empire only for a short time, Scythia Minor (nowadays Dobrogea) was part of it much longer and after the breakdown of the Roman Empire, it became part of the Byzantine Empire.
The first legendary encounter of Christianity in Scythia Minor was when Saint Andrew, brother of Saint Peter passed through it in the 1st century with his disciples. Later on, Christianity became the predominant faith of the region, as proven by the large number of remains of early Christian churches. The Roman administration was ruthless with the Christians, as the great number of martyrs demonstrates.
Bishop Ephrem, killed on 7 March 304 in Tomis, was the first Christian martyr of this region and was followed by countless others, especially during the repression ordered by emperors Diocletian, Galerius, Licinius and Julian the Apostate.
An impressive number of dioceses and martyrs are first attested during the times of Ante-Nicene Fathers. The first known Daco-Roman Christian priest Montanus and his wife Maxima were drowned, as martyrs, because of their faith, on March 26, 304.
The 1971 archaeological digs under the paleo-Christian basilica in Niculiţel (near ancient Noviodunum in Scythia Minor) unearthed an even older martyrium. Besides Zoticos, Attalos, Kamasis and Filippos, who suffered martyrdom under Diocletian (304-305), the relics of two previous martyrs, witnessing and dying during the repressions of Emperor Decius (249-251), were unearthed under the crypt.
The names of these martyrs had been placed since their death in church records, and the find of the tomb with the names written inside was astonishing. The fact that the relics of the famous Saint Sava "the Goth" (martyred by drowning in the River Buzău, under Athanaric on 12 April 372) were recovered by Saint Basil the Great conclusively demonstrates that (unlike bishop Wulfila) Saint Sava was a follower of the Nicene faith, not a heresiarch like Arius.
Once the Dacian-born Emperor Galerius proclaimed freedom for Christians all over the Roman Empire in 311, the city of Tomis alone (modern Constanţa) became Metropolitanate with as many as 14 bishoprics.
By the 4th century, a powerful and organised nucleus of Christian monks existed in the area, known as the Scythian monks.
The Roman occupation led to a Roman-Thracian syncretism, and similar to the case of other conquered civilisation (see Gallo-Roman culture developed in Roman Gaul), had as final result the Latinization of many Thracian tribes which were on the edge of the sphere of Latin influence, eventually resulting in the possible extinction of the Daco-Thracian language (unless, of course, Albanian is its descendant), although traces of it are still preserved in the Eastern Romance substratum. Starting from the 2nd century AD, the Latin spoken in the Danubian provinces starts to display its own distinctive features, separate from the rest of the Romance languages, including those of western Balkans (Dalmatian). The Thraco-Roman period of the Romanian language is usually delimited between the 2nd (or earlier, via cultural influence and economic ties) and the 6th or 7th century. It is divided, in turn, into two periods, with the division falling roughly in the 3rd-4th century. The Romanian Academy considers the 5th century as the latest date when the differences between Balkan Latin and western Latin could have appeared, and that between the 5th and 8th centuries, this new language – Romanian - switched from Latin speech, to a neolatine vernacular idiom, called Proto-Romanian.
First sample of Romanian language
Referring to this time period, of great debate and interest is the so called "Torna, Torna Fratre" episode. In Theophylactus Simocatta Histories, (c. 630), the author mentions the words "τóρνα, τóρνα". The context of this mention is a Byzantine expedition during Maurice's Balkan campaigns in the year 587, led by general Comentiolus, in the Haemus Mons, against the Avars. The success of the campaign was compromised by an incident: during a night march...
- "a beast of burden had shucked off his load. It happened as his master was marching in front of him. But the ones who were coming from behind and saw the animal dragging his burden after him, had shouted to the master to turn around and straighten the burden. Well, this event was the reason for a great agitation in the army, and started a flight to the rear, because the shout was known to the crowd: the same words were also a signal, and it seemed to mean “run”, as if the enemies had appeared nearby more rapidly than could be imagined. There was a great turmoil in the host, and a lot of noise; all were shouting loudly and goading each other to turn back, calling with great unrest in the language of the country "torna, torna", as a battle had suddenly started in the middle of the night."
Nearly two centuries after Theophylactus, the same episode is retold by another Byzantine chronicler, Theophanes Confessor, in his Chronographia (c. 810–814). He mentions the words: "τόρνα, τόρνα, φράτρε" [torna, torna fratre]:
- "A beast of burden had thrown off his load, and somebody yelled to his master to reset it, saying in the language of their parents/of the land: "torna, torna, fratre". The master of the animal didn't hear the shout, but the people heard him, and believing that they are attacked by the enemy, started running, shouting loudly: "torna, torna"".
The first to identify the excerpts as examples of early Romanian was Johann Thunmann in 1774. Since then, a debate among scholars had been going on to identify whether the language in question is a sample of early Romanian, or just a Byzantine command  (of Latin origin, as it appears as such–torna–in Emperors Mauricius Strategikon), and with “fratre” used as a colloquial form of address between the Byzantine soldiers. The main debate revolved around the expressions πιχώριoς γλσσα (epihorios glossa - Theopylactus) and πάτριoς φωνή (patrios fonē - Theophanes), and what they actually meant.
An important contribution to the debate was Nicolae Iorga's first noticing in 1905 of the duality of the term torna in Theophylactus text: the shouting to get the attention of the master of the animal (in the language of the country), and the misunderstanding of this by the bulk of the army as a military command (due to the resemblance with the Latin military command). Iorga considers the army to have been composed of both auxiliary (τολδον) Romanised Thracians—speaking πιχωρί τε γλώττ (the “language of the country” /”language of their parents/of the natives”) —and of Byzantines (a mélange of ethnicities using Byzantine words of Latin origin as official command terms, as attested in the Strategikon).
This view was later supported by the Greek historian A. Keramopoulos (1939), as well as by Al. Philippide (1925), who considered that the word torna should not be understood a solely military command term, because it was, as supported by chronicles, a word “of the country”, as by the year 600, the bulk of the Byzantine army was raised from barbarian mercenaries and the Romanic population of the Balkan Peninsula.
Starting from the second half of the 20th century, the general view is that it is a sample of early Romanian language, a view with supporters such as Al. Rosetti (1960), Petre Ş. Năsturel (1956) and I. Glodariu (1964).
- History of Romania
- Age of Migrations
- Culture of Ancient Rome
- Dacian language
- Thracian language
- Eastern Romance substratum
- Romanian language
- Origin of the Romanians
- Romance languages
- Legacy of the Roman Empire
- The Balkan linguistic union
- (Romanian) Sorin Olteanu, The administrative organisation of the Balkan provinces in the 6th century AD
- (English) Stelian Brezeanu: Toponymy and ethnic Realities at the Lower Danube in the 10th Century. “The deserted Cities" in Constantine Porphyrogenitus' De administrando imperio
- (English) Kelley L. Ross The Vlach Connection and Further Reflections on Roman History
- Nicolae Saramandru: “Torna, Torna Fratre”; Bucharest, 2001–2002; Online: .pdf.
- Nicolae-Şerban Tanaşoca: “«Torna, torna, fratre» et la romanité balkanique au VI e siècle” ("Torna, torna, fratre, and Balkan Romanity in the 6th century") Revue roumaine de linguistique, XXXVIII, Bucharest, 1993.
- Nicolae Iorga: “Geschichte des rumänischen Volkes im Rahmen seiner Staatsbildungen” ("History of the Romanian people in the context of its statal formation"), I, Gotha, 1905; “Istoria românilor” ("History of the Romanians"), II, Bucharest, 1936. Istoria României ("History of Romania"), I, Bucharest, 1960.
- Elton, Hugh (1996). Warfare in Roman Europe, AD 350-425. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198152415.
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