Sunday, January 1, 2023


The neolatin Aromanians of northern Greece

The Aromanians (called often "Vlachs" in the Balkans) speak a language that evolved from Latin. Latin was transmitted by Romans to many peoples and was used as an international language for centuries. Most Vlach populations live in and around the borders of modern Greece.

The word „Vlachs‟ appears in the Byzantine documents at about the 10th century, but few details are connected with it and it is unclear what it means for various authors. It has been variously hypothesized that Vlachs are descendants of Roman soldiers, Thracians, diaspora Romanians, or Latinized Greeks. However, the ethnic makeup of the empires that ruled the Balkans and the use of the language as a lingua franca suggest that the Vlachs probably do not have one single origin. DNA studies might clarify relationships, but these have not yet been done.

After the year 1000 AD the Vlachs grew in importance in the Greek area: The Aromanians had control of most of actual Thessaly (called "Great Vlachia" during the Middle Ages) in the XIII, XIV and early XV centuries.
Map of 1265 "Great Vlachia" (in dark blue): this was a province and region in southeastern Thessaly used to denote the entire region of Thessaly in the 13th, 14th and early 15th centuries

The chronicles of Nicetas Choniates, Benjamin of Tudela, Geoffroy de Villehardouin, Henri de Valenciennes, Robert de Clary, and other sources account for the existence of this state, comprising Thessaly, as opposed to other two "Wallachias", "Little Wallachia" in Acarnania and Aetolia, and an "Upper Wallachia" in Epirus. But actually the Aromanians have been nearly fully assimilated in these regions of Greece. However they actually remain in relatively huge numbers in the Pindus region, in villages located on the mountains just south of Albania.

In the 19th century Vlach was spoken by shepherds in Albania who had practically no relationship with Hellenism as well as by urban Macedonians who had Greek education dating back to at least the 17th century and who considered themselves Greek. The latter gave rise to many politicians, literary figures, and national benefactors in Greece. Because of the language, various religious and political special interests tried to attract the Vlachs in the 19th and early 20th centuries. At the same time, the Greek church and government were hostile to their language. The disputes of the era culminated in emigrations, alienation of thousands of people, and near-disappearance of the language. Nevertheless, due to assimilation and marriages with Greek speakers, a significant segment of the Greek population (may be a third) in Macedonia and elsewhere nearby descends from Vlachs

Traditionally, Aromanians lived in the southern Balkans. Areas with considerable Vlach population exist in central and southern Albania (e.g. the destroyed Moschopolis) and the area that was earlier called Pelagonia and is now in FYROM, with cities such as Krusovo and Monastir (Vitolia).

However, most Vlach habitations appear to be in Greece. The mountain villages form a line that goes from Rome (Italy) to Istanbul (Turkey). At the sides of Pindus, from Grammosta to Pertouli there are about 80 mountain villages, despite the extensive demographic changes of the 20th century. Traditional groups in the plains still exist from Xanthi to Corfu and from the mouth of the river Acheloos to the mouth of Sperchios and also in Evoia.

At the end of the 19th century, there were about 150,000 Aromanians in the southern Balkans, and about half the Greek population of Thessaloniki in fact consisted of Vlachs. After 1912-13 about 100,000 (2/3 of them) became Greek citizens. Since then, they have been much reduced due to emigration and assimilation. The 1951 census,the last time that minorities were counted in Greece, recorded 39,385 Vlachs. Around 2003, there may be 20,000 people in Greece who consider themselves Vlach. Now (in 2023) for greek authorities they are the same amount more or less.

However, these estimates are difficult due to a lack of census information and political bias: it is noteworthy to remember that there are some estimates of as high as 600 000 Aromanians now living in Greece (like the one of Thede Kahl). If one takes into account all potential speakers who consider themselves belonging to the Vlach/Aromanian nation, we should perhaps speak of a maximum of 300 000 Aromanians in Greece and a number of fluent Aromanian speakers as around 100 000.

Historically Weigand (in 1895) concluded that there were about 100,000 in Greece and another 500.000 in the Balkans, and Winnifrith (in 2002) agrees with a larger number (that approached the million in all the Balkans until up to Italy and Chekoslovakia). The Romanian propaganda mentioned 1,200,000. Indeed after the union of northern Greece, of the approximately 160,000 Macedonian Vlachs, 102,000 ended up in Greece, 30,000 in FYROM, 13,500 in Albania and about 10,000 in Bulgaria, Kosovo, Serbia, and Bosnia (Koukoudis, 2000, vol. 3, p. 40).

Furthermore, much has been written about the educated urban elites of Moschopolis and Pelagonia, who were often Vlach traders traveling as far as Hungary, Romania and India. At least as far back as the 17th century, urban Vlachs cultivated the Greek language and literature during the darkest periods of the Ottoman empire with translations and printing presses. Records show that they considered themselves Greek, usually had Greek names, and several became greek-national benefactors. Evidence includes 24 letters of Moschopolis merchants, the printing press of Moschopolis and the records of commercial fraternities of Transylvania.

Examples of Aromanians who were Greek scholars are Rigas Velestinlis (Feraios) and Konstantinos Mertzios. The latter was a rich merchant of the 18th century, who discovered and rescued the Greek archive of Venice and later became a Greek Academy member. The archive of the Greek high school in Monastir during the 19th and 20th century shows that almost all the students and teachers were Vlachs, often from poor families.

Several people maintained the Greek conscience in modern FYROM, despite the passage of 90 years since Pelagonia became Serbian. These families maintained a simultaneous use of Greek and Vlach languages for centuries.

Indeed in Greece the Aromanians had a huge influence in the society.

Historically the members of this „minority‟ have acted as the backbone of Hellenism: fighters against Ottoman occupation, like Rigas Feraios, Giorgakis Olympios, and possibly Theodoros Kolokotronis; leaders of leftist resistance against the Germans (EAM), such as Alexandros Svolos and Andreas Tzimas. Distinguished writers like Kostas Krystallis and Christos Zalokostas were Vlach, as were contemporary composers like Apostolos Kaldaras, Kostas Virvos, Babis Bakalis, and Mitropanos. Many became rich Balkan merchants during the 18th and 19th centuries and many Greek national benefactors were Aromanias, such as Nikolaos Stournaris, Georgios Arsakis, Michael and Georgios Tositsas, Georgios Sinas. Simon Sinas financed the construction of the Academy of Athens, while Georgios Averoff contributed to the first Olympic games.

There was at least one Vlach prime minister, Ioannis Kolettis (1773-1847), ministers (like Evangelos Averoff), and countless senators. Without the majority realizing it, the government of Greece was many times under the control of this „minority‟.

The Aromanian Ioannis Kolettis (centre), then ambassador of Greece to France, in Paris in 1842 (he -born in a village of Pindus mountains- was Prime Minister of Greece twice: in 1834-1835 and in 1844-1847)

Aromanian history in Greece during the last two centuries

The emergence of a consciousness which can be characterised as "national" probably did not occur among the Aromanians before the beginning of national movements of the peoples of Southeastern Europe at the beginning of the 19th century. In the Byzantine and Ottoman period, orthodox Christians defined themselves, regardless of language and culture, as Romans: in Greek Romaioi, later Romioi, in Latin Romani, later Români and Armâńi.

Before Aromanians began to develop their own consciousness or to orient themselves in respect to other peoples and their national movements, the most important aspect of self-identification was mainly as belonging to an Ottoman millet (orthodox Christians) and secondarily to a professional group (shepherds, craftsmen, merchants etc.). Due to traditional work as nomadic herders and due to persecution (especially by Turkish-Albanian troops), Aromanians were dispersed all over the Balkans. When at the beginning of the 19th century an Aromanian movement could be observed especially in the Aromanian diaspora in Buda and Vienna, large numbers of Aromanians were already assimilated into the societies of many regions or were in the state of being assimilated.

Thus we have to distinguish between the "national Aromanian movement" as such on the one hand, and their participation in other national movements on the other hand. Most common streams of national orientation among Aromanians were (and are) pro-Greek and pro-Romanian. The Greek-Romanian conflict on the so called "Aromanian question" split the Aromanians into different factions, i.e. those who consider themselves as being Romanian, those who consider themselves as being Greek and those who consider themselves as being Aromanian.

Since the Aromanians belonged to the Greek Patriarchate and their cultural and economic activities were bound to the Greek church, especially the wealthy urbanised Aromanians have been active promoters of the Greek language and Greek culture for a long time in the former centuries before the French Revolution.. Greek was already in the 17th and 18th century a lingua franca in large parts of Southeastern Europe.

The knowledge of Greek was the key to education and to a higher social status and in this process it did not play any role if Greek was spoken as a mother or as a foreign language. The first written documents in Aromanian were written with the Greek alphabet and did not have the intention to teach Aromanian, but to spread the Greek language. The success of the Greek language among the Aromanians was not only caused by a few individuals promoting Greek culture, but mostly by increasing contacts with Greek neighbours and the Greek language as the most important commercial language.

A lot of settlements in central Greece became hellenised without the influence of political or church activists in the early XIX century. The development of a specifically Aromanian identity can be observed in the early Aromanian diaspora. Especially Aromanian grammars and language booklets document a clear consciousness of latinity/romanity; in 1815 the Aromanians of Buda and Pest asked to have their language used for orthodox liturgy. Peyfuss emphasises that "this Aromanian movement cannot be reduced to activity of Romanian propaganda in Turkey", but has characteristics of a "typical national movement for the 19th century".

In the 1860s, soon after the establishment of independent Romania, the Romanian national movement and its extensive educational policy in Macedonia, Thessaly and Epirus began to influence Aromanian activities. Since then, Aromanian activities were automatically bound to Romania.

The recognition of the "Ullah millet" (meaning: a "Vlach province" in the Ottoman empire) the influence of different national movements, especially those of Greece and Romania, and the influence of foreign powers in the southern Balkans (like France and Italy) , led to further division and clashes. The Greek-Romanian conflict achieved its climax in the last and most violent phases (please read of the Macedonian Struggle (1903-1908), when most Aromanian groups fought on the pro-patriarchate side, while others took sides with the pro-Bulgarian exarchists. Confrontation between differently oriented Aromanians led to bloodshed. The increased tension between the different groups in 1906 led to the breaking-off of diplomatic relations between Romania and Greece.

Since then, the "Ullah millet" has been called a "Romanian minority" and the Aromanians were no longer divided into pro-Greeks and pro-Romanians, but into Greeks (Neo-Hellenes) and Romanians.

.......A different orientation began in 1917, when Italian troops advanced via Albania into Epirus and founded, with the help of Alkiviadis Diamantis, the "Principate of Pindos" in the area of Aromanian settlement. Italy undertook attempts to convert the pro-Romanian Aromanians into pro-Italian, which succeeded to a small degree. In the summer of 1917, when the Italian troops suddenly extended their occupation from Albanian territory to Epirus , the infamous adventurer Alcibiades Diamantis, a Romanian teacher and sometimes an agent of Italian and sometimes Romanian propaganda, first appeared in the Wallachian villages. The idea he was promoting at the time in collaboration with the Italian authorities and a core of Romanian Vlachs centered on Vovousa, was to make the areas where the ethnically diverse Kutsovlachs ("Aromanians") lived autonomous in a canton under the auspices of Italy. Italy, then fishing in murky anti-Hellenic waters, helped Diamantis play his game - supplying food to the would-be liberators of Kutsovlachs, appointing consuls to many Kutsovlach villages, strengthening rumors that Italy and Romania wanted to cooperate in the Balkans with a Latin Italo-Romanian state. The result was, in the fall of 1918, a group of Vlachs from Pindos proclaimed in Kortsa the Republic of Pindos, which lived for one day! The group of Romanians even resisted armed the Greek military detachment that had gone to Vovousa to take over the village from the withdrawing Italians.Divani Lena (( )

Similar attempts were undertaken during the Second World War, when the Aromanian members of the "Roman Legion" fought on the side of the Italian troops. On the other hand, a large number of Aromanian villages were destroyed by German & Axis troops in 1943-1944. Indeed in May 1941, Diamantis demanded a Vlach state with the support of the Italians and suggested putting the Romanian schools under Italian authority. During the terrible greek famine of the winter 1941-1942 the area ruled by the Roman legion was practically not affected, mainly because of huge italian help (please read

With the sympathy for the Italians grew the number of philocatholics among the Aromanians, but the traditional identification with the Orthodox Church kept the majority of the Aromanians closer to modern Hellenism.

On 25 September 1941, Alcibiades Diamandi sent a memorandum to the first collaborationist Greece's Prime Minister (Georgios Tsolakoglou), as a representative of the Vlachs of Pindus and of the South Balkan Vlachs. The memorandum of Diamandi initially contained few requirements: a) The appointment of prefects, mayors and local leaders, would be done by him. b) The dismissal of permanent employees and the transfer of those who are not in favor of that movement. c) To compensate the injured individuals during the Italian-Greek war and Vlachs who had offered animals, fur and other items for the care of the soldiers. d) To punish those who during the Greek-Italian war had transfered Aromanians with anti-"greek national" behavior.

In autumn 1941, the Prince of Pindus Diamandi moved to Larissa and -with the support of Italians who controlled that territory- founded the "Roman Legions Army". The commandant of those Vlach troops was appointed Nikolaos Matusi who was born in Samaria and lived in Larissa.

The number of Vlachs who wore the uniform of the Roman Legion was about 2000 (please read for more information:

Map showing the territorial requests, at the 1919 Peace Conderence of Paris, for the creation of an Aromanian state in the Pindus region of northern Greece. This territory was approximately the same of the Diamandi's "Principate of Pindus" during WW2
After WW2 the remaining Aromanians of Greece started to be fully "assimilated". In the 1960s and 1970s ntimidation and repression of Aromanians by local Greek politicians, teachers, priests as well as the nationalist press in the period between the civil war and the military dictatorship has led to a tabooing of minority topics in Greece.

In Greece there is no newspaper using the Aromanian language. Contemporary Aromanian periodicals can be divided into those few (5% of the total) that deal with Aromanian topics and occasionally print texts written in Aromanian and all those local newspapers (95% of the total) that hardly write about Aromanian subjects and are only published in Greek language.

Finally, we have to remember that in 2023 the survival of the Aromanians in Greece is in a very difficult situation, while in Albania and Macedonia (FYROM) it is improving (with official recognition of their neolatin language and other ethnic topics: please read