ROMANIA: Its regions and its peoples

 

General

Romania is a relatively new country, formed and recognized as a kingdom by the European powers only in the second half of the 19th century. It consists presently of three major provinces: Wallachia, Moldavia (a.k.a. Moldova), and Transylvania.

Prior to the emergence of Romania, these three provinces led a separate political existence and were ruled by voivodes (alternate spelling: voievod). Although the title of voivode had different connotations throughout Eastern Europe, in Wallachia and Moldavia it was equivalent to that of king. Therefore, in the Dracula Chronicles the title of “king” is used for the rulers of Wallachia and Moldavia. In Transylvania, the voivode, or vajda, was an appointee of the Hungarian king, and as such was equivalent to a governor.

Wallachia and Moldavia were inhabited preponderantly by Romanians. Transylvania had a mixed population, consisting mainly of Hungarians, Saxons, and Romanians.

The Hungarians conquered Transylvania sometime in the 10th century and maintained control over it until the 20th century, when it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Romania.

The Saxons (people of German ethnicity) were invited by the Hungarian kings to colonize parts of Transylvania in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Saxons were instrumental in the building of numerous fortress towns and the development of the various crafts and industries essential for the life in the Middle Ages.

Origin of the Romanians

The Romanians living in Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania of the 15th century were a relatively homogeneous group, sharing a common ancestry, a common language, and a common religion.

The Romanians consider themselves descendants of the Roman colonists brought to parts of present-day Romania, following the conquest of the region by the Roman Emperor Trajan at the beginning of the 2nd century CE.

The Roman conquest targeted mostly Western Wallachia and Transylvania, inhabited at the time by Dacians. The occupation of the region, which the Romans called Dacia Felix, or “Happy Dacia,” lasted until the second half of the 3rd century CE. At that time the Roman military forces and imperial administration withdrew south of the Danube, leaving stranded behind them tens of thousands of Roman colonists. It is these abandoned colonists Romanian scholars believe formed the stock from which the Romanians of Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania emerged.

Some of the minorities living in Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania were the Gypsies, Jews, Szeklers, Armenians, Tartars, Bulgarians, Serbs, and Poles.

Language of the Romanians

While there has been controversy over the origin of the Romanians for centuries, it is a universally accepted fact that the language spoken by Romanians is closely related to the Vulgar Latin. Romanian is recognized without debate as belonging to the surviving group of approximately 47 Romance languages and dialects, alongside French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Occitan, and Catalan. None of Romania’s minorities or neighbors speaks languages of a Latin origin.

Religion in the 15th Century Wallachia and Moldavia

Christian (Greek Orthodox dominant, Catholic insignificant). In Wallachia and Moldavia Judaism was tolerated, but Islam was not.

Religion in the 15th Century Transylvania

Christian (Catholic dominant, Greek Orthodox practiced only by the Romanians of Transylvania). In Transylvania Judaism was tolerated, but Islam was not.

HUNGARY: Its regions and its people

General

Hungary is situated on the Danube River, in the northwest of the Balkan Peninsula. In the 15th century Hungary was an independent kingdom that included Transylvania among its regions. Even when, for a few decades, the king of Hungary was Sigismund of Luxembourg, also Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE), Hungary was not part of the HRE.

Origin of the Hungarians

Hungarians, a.k.a. Magyars, are a people originating in Central Asia. They settled in the current territory of Hungary in the 9th and 10th centuries CE. Soon thereafter they conquered Transylvania, which remained a province of Hungary, with some interruptions, until the 20th century.

Language of the Hungarians

Hungarians speak a Uralic language that does not belong to the Indo-European group of languages spoken by all their neighbors. Instead, Hungarian belongs to the Ugric group of languages spoken by certain peoples of Western Siberia.

Religion in the 15th Century Hungary

Christian (Catholic in the Kingdom of Hungary proper; Catholic and Greek Orthodox in Transylvania). In Hungary and Transylvania Judaism was tolerated, but Islam was not.

THE BALKAN SPACE: The states and their peoples

General

The turbulent history of the Balkan region renders it difficult to make firm observations regarding state lines, since these lines moved continually throughout the Middle Ages. Moreover, with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, starting in the second half of the 14th century, most of these states ultimately ceased to exist, only to reemerge in the second half of the 19th century, and after WWI.

The political formations extant in the region in the 14th and 15th century can be most easily identified by their current names, since the actual names used at the time are too challenging to follow in a work of historical fiction. Thus, we can mention Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Albania.

Origin of the Peoples in the Balkan Space

Bulgarians, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Bosnians, Montenegrins, and Macedonians (those not of Greek ethnicity) are designated as South Slavs and constitute the southern ethnographical branch of the Slavic peoples. It is hazardous to posit hypotheses on the ethnic composition and origins of these peoples, since modern DNA science has revised many of the traditional views on this subject and will continue to do so.

Albanians are considered by most historians as descendants of the populations of the prehistoric Balkans, such as the Dacians, Thracians, and Illyrians.

Languages of the Peoples in the Balkan Space

The South Slavs speak variations of Old Church Slavonic, a language belonging to the Indo-European group.

Albanians speak a distinct Indo-European language that does not belong to any other existing branch of that group.

Religion in the 15th Century Balkan Space

Christian. Both Catholic and Greek Orthodox religions were practiced by the peoples of the Balkans. In the Christian zone of the Balkan space, prior to the Ottoman conquest, Judaism was tolerated, but Islam was not. Following the Ottoman conquest, some Christian groups converted to Islam, presumably by choice.

THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE: Its regions and its peoples

General

At its height, in the 6th century CE, the Byzantine Empire, or Byzantium, encompassed all territory known today as Greece, as well as many regions bordering the Mediterranean and Black Seas. By the time of Dracula, the empire had lost most of its territory, becoming reduced to a small area consisting of the capital city of Constantinople, its immediate surrounding region, a few islands in the Aegean Sea, and the Despotate of Morea (Peloponnesus). Of the territory that had been Greece in antiquity, most fell under Ottoman, Venetian, and Genovese occupation.

In the Western Mediterranean, former Byzantine holdings became kingdoms and city-states in the Italian and Iberian Peninsulas. In the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the Byzantine Empire lost ground to the Ottoman, Trebizond, and Mameluke Empires.

Origin of the Peoples of the Byzantine Empire

The majority of the inhabitants of what remained of the Byzantine Empire by the 15th century were Greeks. A large variety of minorities was also present, consistent with the multicultural tradition of the empire.

Languages of the Peoples of the Byzantine Empire

The official language of imperial administration and of most Byzantines was Greek. However, having encompassed many ethnically diverse territories over the centuries, Byzantium inherited other languages, such as Latin, Arabic, Georgian, Armenian, Aramaic, Slavonic, and Turkish Roma (the language of the Gypsies).

Religion in the 15th Century Byzantine Empire

Christian (Greek Orthodox dominant, Catholic minority). In the Byzantine Empire Judaism was tolerated, but Islam was not.

THE TREBIZOND EMPIRE: Its region and its people

General

Trebizond broke away from Byzantium in the 13th century. It occupied a small portion of the southern coast of the Black Sea. In resisting occupation by the Ottoman Empire until the second half of the 15th century, Trebizond became the longest surviving of the Byzantine Empire successor states.

Origin of the Peoples of the Trebizond Empire

The majority of the Trebizond inhabitants were Greeks.

Languages of the Peoples of the Trebizond Empire

The official language of imperial administration and of most inhabitants of Trebizond was Greek. However, having once been part of the Byzantine Empire, Trebizond inherited other languages, such as Latin, Arabic, Georgian, Armenian, Aramaic, Slavonic, and Turkish.

Religion in the 15th Century Trebizond Empire

Christian (Greek Orthodox dominant, Catholic minority). In the Trebizond Empire Judaism was tolerated, but Islam was not.

VENETIANS AND GENOVESE: Their activities in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea

General

In the 15th century, both Venice and Genoa were maritime merchant republics with a particular interest in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Thousands of their ships plied these waters, dominating the shipping trade that brought goods from the Silk Road to Western Europe, and manufactured goods from Western Europe to the countries of the Middle East. As was the case with other republics throughout history (e.g., the Athenian Republic in the 5th century BCE, and the Roman Republic in the 1st century BCE), their republican status at home did not prevent Venice and Genoa from establishing empires abroad. In the case of these two Italian city-states, the empires they spawned were of primarily a commercial nature, though military power was never kept too far out of sight.

Venice’s primary theater of operation was the Adriatic, Ionic, and Aegean Seas. In the Aegean Sea Venice exercised control, or strong influence, over most of the islands, including Cyprus, Crete, and Euboea. Venetians also held intermittent control over portions of the mainland around Thessaloniki and on the north coast of the Peloponnesus.

Genoa dominated the maritime trade through the straits of Bosphorus and the Black Sea, which the republic considered practically a Genovese lake. The intense commercial activities of the Genovese, at such a long distance from their home base on the northwest coast of Italy, were supported by two colonies established by the Genovese Republic: Galata, a.k.a. Pera, on the Golden Horn, across the water from the City of Constantinople; and Caffa, in Crimea on the Black Sea.

As Christian powers, both the Venetians and the Genovese professed to be allies of Byzantium. This religious affiliation did not prevent them, however, from trading with the Ottoman Empire in times of peace. During times of war between the Ottomans and their Christian or Muslim foes, Genovese and Venetian ships would occasionally help the Ottomans with ferrying their troops to and from Anatolia, across the straits of the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, a.k.a. Bosporus.

The Origin of the Venetians and Genovese

The Venetians were at their origin refugees from Roman towns of the mainland region bordering the lagoons. The Genovese were descendants of the ancient Ligures, who were conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century BCE.

Languages of the Venetians and Genovese

In the 15th century the Genovese spoke Ligurian, while the Venetians spoke Veneto. Both of these languages belong to the group of Romance languages, derived from the Vulgar Latin and modified by other linguistic elements specific to each geographical region. While Ligurian and Veneto continue to be spoken by some groups, the standard Italian language dominates at the present in Genoa and Venice.

Religion in the 15th Century Venice and Genoa

Christian (Catholic). In the Venetian and Genovese Republics, Judaism was tolerated, but Islam was not.

THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE: Its regions and its peoples

General

The Ottoman Empire had its roots in the remnants of the Sultanate of Seljuk, which controlled roughly three quarters of Anatolia from the 10th through the 13th century CE. The Seljuks were leaders of nomadic Turkish warrior tribes who arrived in Anatolia from Central Asia. In mid 13th century, the Seljuks became vassals of the advancing Mongols. In the first decade of the 14th century, the Sultanate of Seljuk finally disintegrated, leaving behind a number of small emirates, or beyliks, led by Turkish warlords.

One of these beyliks, that of Osman Bey, neighbored the shrinking Byzantine Empire on the western tip of the Anatolian Peninsula. It was Osman who, through the strength of arms and diplomacy, managed to rally many of the other beyliks around him and form a strong army. Motivated by both religious fervor and thirst for conquest, Osman’s army launched relentless attacks on the Byzantine Asiatic holdings. From this struggle there emerged, at the beginning of the 14th century, a growing power that was destined to become the longest-lasting empire of the Christian era, the Ottoman Empire. By the mid-15th century, when Dracula’s story begins, six sultans of the House of Osman had already been in power, and the Ottomans had conquered all of the Byzantine Anatolian lands and most of its European holdings. The great city of Constantinople, believed impregnable and under the protection of God, remained standing, as a tantalizing prize for the sultan strong enough to smash through its gigantic walls.

Origin of the Peoples of the Ottoman Empire

The Turks belong to the group of Turkic peoples whose branches also include the Kipchak, Karluk, Siberian, Chuvash, and Sakha/Yakut. They began to migrate westward in the 7th century CE, from the Central Asian region of the Altai Mountains. Ultimately they settled in Anatolia, from where their empire grew to engulf in time much of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Naturally, not all inhabitants of the Ottoman Empires were ethnic Turks. There were also Arabs, Jews, Armenians, Georgians, Kurds, Persians, Afghani, Greeks, Gypsies, Wallachians, Moldavians, Bulgarians, Albanians, Serbs, Slovenians, Hungarians, and Croats. To a small degree, representatives of virtually all other nations in Europe, Asia, and Africa were present in the empire. Some of these minorities were free people, while others were slaves. People in some of the conquered territories were already Muslims; and some Christians from conquered lands chose to convert to Islam, adopting the clothing style and the language of the Turkish conquerors. All of these non-Turkish Muslims were lumped together by the Europeans outside the empire under the designation of Turks. However, since many of them were not ethnic Turks, a more appropriate designation would’ve been that of Ottomans.

Languages of the Peoples of the Ottoman Empire

The Turks of the 15th century spoke Turkic, a language belonging to the Altaic language family, together with the Mongolic, Tungustic, Japonic, and Korean languages. The languages of the Altaic family are spoken in a wide area from Northeast Asia, through Central Asia, Anatolia, and Eastern Europe. Other languages spoken were: Greek, Latin, Arabic, Georgian, Armenian, Aramaic, Slavonic, Romanian, and Roma (the language of the Gypsies).

Religion in the 15th Century Ottoman Empire

Islam (Sunni dominant, Shi’a minority). In the Ottoman Empire both Christianity and Judaism were tolerated religions, with no forcible conversion evident as a widespread phenomenon. However, boys recruited at an early age for the Janissary Corps from among the Christians (either by force or acquiescence) were forcibly converted to Islam.

 

 

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