The Wallachians, an ethnic group in Greece who speak a Romance language called “Vlachika”, or Aromanian, have their own distinct culture and traditions in Greece.
Members of this group, which now numbers around 250,000 individuals, are found in many Balkan countries, including Greece, North Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Romania. There is also a significant population in North America.
Most of Greece’s Vlachs today live in the north of the country, particularly in and around the Pindus mountain range. The center of the Wallachian people in Greece is the town of Metsovo, which is the center of their culture in the country.
In Greece, as in many countries where the Wallachians live, the younger generations have assimilated perfectly and many no longer speak the language and have lost their traditions.
The term “Wallachian” in Greece has also come to describe shepherds and “country people” in general, and has derogatory and pejorative connotations.
Although the term is considered negative, the Vlachs are traditionally pastoralists and shepherds who have historically moved from the highlands in summer to the lowlands in winter to graze their animals.
The history of the Wallachians in Greece
The Wallachians were first identified as a separate ethnic group in the 11th century by the Byzantine Greek historian George Kedrenos.
While the origins of this group are unclear, some believe they descended from the ancient peoples known as the Dacians. Others claim their roots go back to the Thraco-Romans, while others believe they are descendants of the Romanized Illyrians.
Many Vlachs and scholars in Greece maintain that the group is simply made up of ethnic Greeks who adopted the language of the Romans.
What is clear is that the language of the Wallachians, Aromanian, has links with the Latin vulgate spoken in the Balkans during Roman times. Although it has words borrowed from Greek, Turkish, and a number of Slavic languages, its roots are entirely in Latin.
Under the Ottomans, the Wallachians were considered to belong to the same ethnic category as the Greeks, or “Rum”, since they were Orthodox Christians. As Greek was the lingua franca of the Balkans at the time, especially when it came to commerce and education, many Vlachs spoke Greek and became more Hellenized, choosing to settle in villages and towns rather than continue their migratory and pastoral way of life.
It was not until the 19th century that the group began to distinguish itself from other Christians in the Balkans. As the Ottoman Empire began to crumble, definite nation states began to form and the Wallachians were caught between many different countries. The reason why the Vlachs are spread over many Balkan countries is due to this migration.
Members of the ethnic group have historically supported Greek political causes during the Ottoman Empire, and they even played a pivotal role in the Greek War of Independence, as did the Arvanites, another ethnic group in Greece.
After the formation of the Greek state in the early 19th century, the country’s Wallachian groups split into two factions – those that identified more closely with Romania and others that were linked to Greece. However, these factions died out over time and most Vlachs now consider themselves to be Greeks.
As they are also Orthodox Christians, the main distinguishing feature of the Wallachians is now their language, which resembles Romanian (which itself looks and sounds very Latin). Their language is now under threat, however, because it does not have a standardized alphabet; many younger generations do not use and speak it.
There are currently around 300 groups dedicated to the preservation of the Wallachian culture and language in Greece. Activists hope to keep the language alive, especially among the younger generations.