The ancient Germans used to call the neighboring Celtic peoples by the name Walha. This practice survived, for instance, in the modern English names of Wales (from the Old English Wealh) for the country which in the native language of its inhabitants is called Cymru (pronounced ['kmru]). The term Walha is most probably derived from the name of a Celtic tribe, living in the south-eastern regions of Gaul (modern France) and referred by the Romans as Volcae.
As the Celts on the European continent were gradually Romanized (between 2nd c. BC and 2nd c. AD) the Germans began using the term Walha to denote also the Romans and Romance-speaking peoples in general. Till modern times the German-speaking inhabitants of Switzerland call their French-, Italian- and Rheto-Romance-speaking compatriots Welschen. The Romance-speaking population in the Low Countries (concentrated mainly in the eastern regions of the modern state of Belgium) accepted the term Walha as its own ethnic name under the form Wallons (in English Walloons).
Early in the Middle Ages the Slavs in Eastern Europe borrowed from the Germans the name Walha (possibly from its Old High German variant Walah) as a designation for the Romance-speaking peoples under the forms Vlakhi / Vlasi (in South-Slavic languages), Volokhi (in East-Slavic languages) or Wlochy (in Polish). Thus the term Wlochy (pronounced ['vlxi]) is still in use in modern Polish as a designation of Italy. In South-Eastern Europe the Romance speakers have survived the barbarian invasions by fleeing to the mountains, where they became specialized in nomadic pastoralism. For this reason the Byzantine Greeks, who in their turn had borrowed the term Blachoi (pronounced ['vlaxi]) from the Slavic Vlakhi, often tended to use it when referring to the pastoralists in general. The term acquired some derogatory connotations as the pastoralists denied completely the political order and law, often practiced robbery and when engaged as mercenaries in the regular Byzantine army proved to be very treacherous (see the Anna Comnena account in Alexiad, Kekaumenos et al.). During the Ottoman rule in Bosnia (1459-1878) the Muslims refered in a derogatory manner to the Orthodox Serbs as Vlasi.
The Romance-speaking pastoralists
on the Balkan peninsula were in permanent movement and beginning sometimes
in the 10th or 11th c. they have gradually migrated northwards, from the
Balkan mountain across the Danube, in the Carpathian region, concentrating
first in Transylvania, especially in the region of Fagaras (Fagarash).
The Hungarians who by then dominated this province, referred to them as
(note that the Hungarian word for Italian is Olasz). In 1290
the Oláh military leader Radu Negru crossed the Carpathians, avoiding
the Hungarian pressure, and penetrated the Lower Danube region. In the
territory between the Carpathians and the Danube there was established
an independent principality which in the Western Latin texts was called
(in Middle Bulgarian Vlashko); the Ottoman Turks, who led
many wars against and effectively dominated the principality till the mid
19th c., called it Iflak.
Introductary Survey Main Page
Orbis Latinus Main Page
This page is part of Orbis
© Zdravko Batzarov