BRAVE AND HONORABLE DACIANS
WHO art thou Roumanian? Whence art thou come? Roman, aye—and Rome was big—
Isolation in the midst of a world highway is the story of thy land. From the dawn of history, here in the plain of the Danube, hedged between the Black Sea and the Carpathians, has been Europe's eastern gateway for invasion, migration, conquest—fertile plain that in time of peace has found always new dwellers to repair the ravages of war—land whose mountain nooks have been the refuge for war's survivors when the floods of conquerors swept through. At last this little walled-in region holds, of those who have come and stayed, perhaps more of ethnological mixture and more of unmixed ethnological variety than any other of its size on earth.
In the beginning this was Thrace, limit of the Homeric world. They were Thracians, and who can say how much the Roumanians today, or how many, are men of Thrace? Darius and the Persian hordes swept through six centuries before Christ, Xerxes a hundred years later, and it is no way of conquering armies to leave none of their seed behind. Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great warred through the land, leading other kindred tribes.
The Romans called it Dacia. A hundred years after Christ, Trajan conquered the brave and honorable Dacians, and he and the Caesars after him transplanted from Gaul and Illyria and other far-flung provinces those Roman legions who could be trusted better if separated from their native temptations to revolt. To say it differently, this was one of those territories that were parceled out for soldier bonuses of Roman days—lands the Caesars gave to legionnaires under military servitude, and usually where they would be buttresses of the empire against the warlike hosts that pressed down from the north. Such converted barbarians, whether in Gaul, in Africa, or in Dacia, said proudly that they were Romans. They drew from Rome their culture, their tongue, their art, and today the Roumanians say that they are Romans. Surrounded through the centuries by a sea of slavic, altaic, teutonic tongues, they speak yet one of the seven romance languages, the only one that Rome left east of the Alps. Their customs, their habits, retain today many elements that can be traced more certainly back to Rome than do those of any other of the nations that once were proud to say that they were Roman. Even the classic toga survives here and there, disguised by nothing more than the wide belt, which, after all, some Romans may have worn. Typical designs of Roman art live yet in native borders and embroideries.
The Goths under Alaric in the third century, Huns under Attila in the fourth, Ardaric and the Gepidae in the fifth, the Avars and Scythians In the sixth, successively overran the Decian territory, leaving always more or less of their number to mingle with the Roman stock. A heavy colony of Slavs moved in during the seventh, and in the same century the Finnic Bulgars conquered the land and planted colonies. In the eighth Charlemagne subdued it with his French and German brigades. Magyars looted the region in the ninth, left some settlers and colonized nearby. In the tenth the Peshenegs invaded, in the eleventh the Cumans, both leaving settlements. In the fourteenth Amurath, or Murad, the Turk, conquered the Balkan regions, including Wallachia, Moldavia, Transylvania, Bessarabia, the Dobruja—all that we can call Roumania now—and held them, more or less, and off and on, their most frequent battleground, ruled by the pachas until less than a century ago. Russia, combatting to get them from the Turks, got control from time to time, and introduced settlers, merchants, governors, soldiers.
These are the races, sometimes more and sometimes less distinct, mixed and unmixed, marked variously throughout the country by characteristics and differences that might or might not be explained—Thracian, Persian, Greek, Gaul, Illyrian, Roman of almost every province, Goth, Hun, Slav, Scythian, Finn, Bulgar, Magyar, Turk, Cossack, Tatar, Pole, with whatever the lesser migrations brought. Add to these the Saxons and Hungarians who settled there in the middle ages and who have lived there for seven centuries in colonies, unabsorbed—200,000 Saxons now, Saxon as Saxony, and 700,000 Hungarians, in Transylvania. Their native costumes are those of the middle ages, their language Saxon and Hungarian. The Hungarian women, "with their steely black hair, their rainbow-hued ribbons, their pearl fillets, and their tight-fitting, art-embroidered jackets, present a picture that can never be forgotten."*
"It is a veritable treasure-house of contrasting costumes; here those of the Wallachian, here those of the Moldavian, here those of the Saxon, here those of the Hungarian, and here all of them in a gay pot-pourri, with a sprinkling of Greek, Bulgar, and Serb, of Gipsy and of Slovak, thrown in."*
The Jews have been here for centuries to prosper and tribulate. Here is the fountain-head of European Gipsies, head of the Romany trail. Everywhere in Roumania the Tzgani has his part to do, he and his spangles, begging, dancing, telling the future, marching with his bear, singing, playing his violin—no occasion can be done right without the Gipsy and his violin.
Here is the land that modern civilization found last in Europe, weaned last from medieval ways, almost the last in Europe where traditional peasant dress is an every-day rule and not the holiday exception.
The history of Roumania cannot be traced here, nor the wars fought back and forth across its soil—like when Constantine's 135,000 Christian Romans beat Licinius and his 165,000 Roman pagans, to decide the religion of the empire. There have been a thousand ups and downs, great heroes, abominable villains, colossal legendary figures. In the medieval days were mighty soldiers, churchmen, princes. Heroic paladins since then have championed the cause of liberty and vainly shed their blood against the Turk, the Greek, the Russian, but only in the last century did a prince arise, elected by the people, to throw off their bondage and create in Roumania a Kingdom—His Royal Majesty Karl-Eitel-Friedrich-Zephyrin-Ludwig von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, by Grace of God and the Will of the Nation King of Roumania—husband of Carmen Sylva.
* John Oliver La Gorce, in National Geographic.