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ETHNONYMS: Aromuni, Cincari, Vlasi


Identification. The name "Vlachs" refers to the old Balkan ethnic group whose members are descendants of romanized and grecized Paleo-Balkan and Indo-European populations: Illyrians and Thracians. Also, the Vlachs are a recent ethnic substratum in northeast Serbia formed by Romanians and Romanized Slav immigrants from Romania.

Location. Small groups of Vlachs have survived a diaspora, mostly in the central Balkan mountain regions, in northern Greece (Thessaly, Epirus), Bulgaria, Romania, and Yugoslavia. In the former Yugoslavia Vlachs are found in eastern Istria (Croatia) between the towns of Trieste and Rijeka, in Macedonia near Kruševo and Bitola, and in Serbia near Pirot and on the mountain of Kopaonik. Vlachs in northeast Serbia live in the region delimited by the rivers of Velika Morava to the west, Timok to the east, and Danube to the north, and by the mountain of Rtanj to the south.

Demography. As there is no generally accepted criteria for determining who should be considered a Vlach, and because their assimilation with Slavs and other populations is rather intense, it is difficult to determine their exact number. Historical data show that at the beginning of the nineteenth Century about 400,000 to 500,000 Vlachs lived on the Balkan Peninsula. However, it is assumed that today there are about 50,000 to 60,000 Vlachs, of which 20 percent live in the former Yugoslavia. The population of Yugoslavia in 1981 was 22,425,000, while 32,071 individuals or 0.1 percent listed themselves as Vlachs. They are most numerous in Serbia (25,596) and Macedonia (6,392).

Linguistic Affiliation. The Vlach language developed from vernacular Latin. It is similar to Romanian, with which it shares many common forms both in grammar and phonetics. However, the differences between the two languages are so great, particularly in Vlach vocabulary, which abounds with Slavic, Albanian, and Greek elements, that the average Romanian cannot understand the Vlach language. Because of frequent migrations, isolated mountain life, and the separate development of individual Vlach groups, several dialects have been formed. Generally, Vlachs are bilingual, speaking both the language of the population living in their immediate proximity and the Vlach language, which they use for internal local communication. In the southeast regions of the Balkan Peninsula they also accepted Greek as a more prestigious Language, whereas in the western parts of the Balkans the Vlach language completely disappeared (except in Istria), although it left clear traces in both toponymy and anthroponymy.

History and Cultural Relations

During the sixth and seventh centuries AD., under the Pressure of the Slavs and other peoples advancing from the north to the Balkan Peninsula, the autochthonous Balkan populations retreated to the southern and western regions. Those who took refuge in inaccessible high mountains of the central and southern Balkans and adopted a nomadic way of life managed to survive and eventually developed into a distinct group. This process probably took place in the region of Pind in Greece, where their core remains today and from which they have dispersed for centuries. In the tenth century a large Vlach group still lived on the mountain of Pind, in Thessaly, Epirus, and Macedonia. Another group spread through the mountains of the Balkan Peninsula, between the Black Sea and the Adriatic, in the Adriatic hinterland and towns of the Adriatic coast. From the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, because of their nomadic way of life, they spread considerably through what was then Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Croatia, moving as far north as the Polish Carpathians. From the fifteenth century, during the time of the Turkish invasion of the Balkans, the Vlachs as nomadic cattle breeders became included in the economic life of the Turkish Empire and were granted certain privileges. During this time they even formed some permanent villages. However, the crises and conflicts that affected the Turkish Empire from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries resulted in the persecution of nomadic Vlachs. Ali Pasha Janjinski (1744-1822) was the most cruel of the Turkish overlords, destroying the Vlachs' native Country in Pind and scattering Vlach families to different parts of the Balkan Peninsula. Some Vlachs remained faithful to a nomadic way of life and sheep breeding, while others traveled to find work in towns and abandoned the traditional occupations. Further development of socioeconomic, historical, and political relationships was not favorable to nomadic cattle raising nor to the Vlachs, so they began to assimilate with the surrounding ethnic groups. Vlachs in northeast Serbia immigrated mostly at the end of the eighteenth and the start of the nineteenth centuries from the territory of present-day Romania.

In their dispersion, individual Vlach groups maintain cultural relations with different Slavic, Albanian, Greek, and Romanian ethnic groups, living with them in peaceful coexistence with frequent contacts and intermixing. Vlachs in northeast Serbia have equal rights and obligations with the predominant Serbian population, although they do not have their own schools or other cultural and social institutions, newspapers, etc.


Traditional settlements of nomadic Vlachs are summer dwellings (katuni ), situated on high mountains near springs and good pastures. Tents made of black felt (rolled wool) or log cabins built of reed, brushwood, and branches, covered with a thatch of straw of circular or rectangular shape, are crowded together. Temporary winter settlements are somewhat larger than summer ones, as more family groups gather together. Permanent Vlach villages are usually situated along steep mountain slopes with spacious houses closely set together. Since World War II the Vlachs in northeast Serbia have built large brick houses, comfortably furnished and including small gardens, as a considerable number of their population work abroad in western Europe. However, they still generally prefer their old houses situated nearby.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The basic occupation of Vlachs is sheep breeding, including the production of milk and dairy products. The main food on all occasions is "white meat" (cheese, milk, cream, and sour cream) and bread, and only occasionally potatoes and meat. Winter food provisions are meager, except for dairy products and bacon. Their most popular drink is whey, the liquid that remains after cheese is curdled. They exchange sheep products for some agricultural products with farmers. They process wood, leather, and wool and make clothes from home-produced and -worked wool. Clothes are made from felt produced by rolling or beating woolen cloth left in the color of the natural wool or dyed with dark stains. The costume consists of a long tunicshirt, worn next to the skin, a sleeveless coat, a red yarn belt, several layers of woolen stockings and over them sandals (opanci ) of rawhide formed on a last and with woven thongs of sheep guts. Women wear a woolen apron decorated with braids and loops. A large cloak with a hood (kabanica ) and a small brimless cap are typically worn. Vlachs in northeast Serbia, in addition to sheep and cattle breeding, are also engaged in mining, gold panning, and the production of charcoal. In lowlands near the Danube, they are engaged in farming, fruit growing, and viticulture.

Industrial Arts. The Vlach herders are good tailors and wood-carvers. Those who settled in towns are professional artisans, particularly shoemakers, tinsmiths, coppersmiths, goldsmiths, and construction workers. They are also successful bankers and innkeepers.

Trade. Vlachs in towns are known as good tradespeople who own small oriental shops with handicraft products. For herders, exchange of goods is common.

Division of Labor. Labor is traditionally divided into male and female activities. Milking, cheese making, weaving, cleaning, washing, cooking, and care of children are exclusively female responsibilities, whereas tending pasture, chopping wood, handicrafts, and trade are men's work.

Land Tenure. Pastures, water, and forests are collective property, and every family of the group has equal rights to them. In addition, each lineage has its own pastures that are inviolable. Frequently, a number of families of the same or different lineages are joined into a larger group (tajfe ), and Together they rent pastures, process milk, and sell dairy Products, so that a community spirit permeates all group activities.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Kinship. The most important kinship group is the patriarchal extended family formed by married brothers and their offspring. Herders usually have many children, from eight to twelve. Several families of a common descent form a lineage (soj or fara ). The surnames of lineages are permanent and the members of seven to fifteen generations are known Genealogically. Descent is agnatic and kinship terminology is highly elaborated. Blood brotherhood (pobratimstvo ) and godfatherhood (kumstvo ) are highly respected and socially important.

Marriage. Exogamous marriage and patrilocal residence are preferred. However, matrilocal residence is possible when there is no male heir in a family, and such an in-marrying male is called a domazet. Marriages are traditionally arranged by parents. Age at marriage is exceptionally low, and early marriages are a common and socially imposed phenomenon. It is generally believed that a girl will grow old if she does not marry immediately after puberty.

Domestic Unit. The extended family is the most frequent domestic unit, which is a unit of production, consumption, and common defense.

Inheritance. Land inheritance, both traditionally and today, is primarily through male lines of descent.

Socialization. Children are taught always to respect their elders and never to oppose them. They are more afraid of their fathers than of their mothers; corporal punishment is common. Small children are carried everywhere in a small cradle slung on their mother's back. In addition to the Parents, father's and mother's brothers and cousins also show considerable care for the children. Male children are generally more protected than female ones, while the borderline Between childhood and adolescence for both sexes is the age of 15, which coincides with sexual and biological maturity.

Sociopolitical Organization

Throughout history, the Vlachs never succeeded in forming their own state. By the end of the eighteenth century in the Albanian town of Moskopolje, a national movement was organized but it never involved all Vlachs. Although they are not numerous, they do live on a comparatively great territory because they are dispersed as ethnic islands among other Peoples. Individual Vlach groupsespecially herders in winter settlementsmaintain frequent mutual contacts. Movements from one regional group to another are rather Common. This behavior contributes to intermixing and to the maintenance of ethnic identity. Although the Vlachs had been relatively homogeneous, following the Balkan Wars (1876-1878 and 1912-1918) the territory in which they live was politically divided so that communication between Vlachs in Albania, Yugoslavia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania became very difficult. They were not allowed to cross state borders with their flocks and herds.

Social Organization. The social position of the Vlachs was determined by the opposition between the sedentary populations and the mobile nomads, clearly distinguished in Old Serbian and Croatian laws. Serbian laws of the Middle Ages, for example, prohibited marriages between sedentary Serbs and Vlach nomads in order to preserve a sedentary economic national character. Mountains and forests in the Middle Ages were treated legally almost as a dead zone, and their inhabitant herders were free from laws that applied to sedentary populations. Consequently, Vlachs have always had their own autonomous internal organization. Patriarchal families were grouped in lineages or groups of lineages (tajfas ) headed by čelnik or ćehaja. This head shepherd was supreme chief with great authority. His word was always obeyed and he governed a group of 20 to 200 families with 10,000 sheep, paying taxes and tributes and taking care of trade and other group activities.

Social Control. Traditional norms regulate the relationship between the individual and the group. The place and the role of the house and family is strictly determined within this structure.

Conflict. Self-managed communities (katuni) were closed in their autonomous world and their members organized their own defense. Conflicts between two neighboring Communities were usually over pasture rights, and every offense gave rise to fierce animosity, plundering, and killings, which sometimes turned into a series of bloody revenges. Isolated in high mountains, the Vlachs represented the main outposts of resistance in fights with the Turks.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs and Practices. Generally, Vlachs accepted the same religion as the other populations in the Region in which they lived. Today, the majority of Vlachs belong to the Orthodox church, characteristic for the eastern Balkans; Vlachs in the western Balkans are Catholics; and only a small number are Muslims. Nonetheless, they also persistently preserve their ancient practices and beliefs, which are respected and maintained as ethnic, cultural, and moral traits. This belief system clearly defines the relationship of the individual self with the material and spiritual world. Everything related to human beings and existence usually is attributed to fate. Although they celebrate all the main holidays of the formal church calendar, they rarely attend church for these occasions, celebrating instead among themselves; they do not call the priest for requiem masses and they do not marry in church. Even if they come to church, they disturb prayers by dancing and singing. The Orthodox Vlachs celebrate the important Orthodox holiday slava, feast of the patron saint, but for them it is primarily a cult dedicated to land fertility. Fortune-telling and sorcery are a common part of all aspects of social and religious life.

Arts. Vlachs developed all types of oral folk literature, epic and lyric songs, ballads, proverbs, and riddles. However, their creative work lacks fantastic beings and events. Tattooing as body decoration has been preserved up to the present in some Vlach groups.

Medicine. Traditional ways of healing still play an Important role, particularly with mountain herders who live far from medical institutions. Vlachs cure the majority of illnesses with simple devices, mostly plants and their infusions, by themselves or with the help of a folk practitioner.

Death and Afterlife. Vlachs have a deeply rooted belief in life after death and very elaborate funeral rites. The dead are highly respected and imaginary contact with them is held on many occasions and in different ways, are to ensure the afterlife of the soul. In northeast Serbia, requiem masses are held for both the living and the dead in the same way, in the form of feasts that often develop into real orgies. Twice a day, three times a week for forty days, prayers are held to forty-four dead and forty-four live kin, and everything is accompanied by abundant food, music, and dances for the souls. The custom of disinterment forty days after death is still present there, although prohibited by law.


Cvijić, Jovan (1966). Balkansko poluostrvo i južnoslovenske zemlje (The Balkan Peninsula and the South Slavic lands). 2nd ed. Belgrade: Lavod za Izdavanje Udžbenika.

Drobnjaković, Borivoje (1960). Etnologija naroda Jugoslavije [Ethnology of peoples in Yugoslavia]. Belgrade: Lavod za Izdavanje Udžbenika.

Federal Statistical Office (1982). Statisticki bilten Jugoslavije [Statistical bulletin of Yugoslavia]. Belgrade: Lavod za Izdavanje Udžbenika.

Skok, Petar (1926). Rumunska literatura o balkanskim Vlasima [Romanian literature on Balkanic Vlachs]. Skopje: Glasnik Skopskog Naučnog Društva.


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Vlachs: see Walachia.

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