A Room to Swing a Cat In is a short story inspired by the history behind the house of Nicolas Flamel, 51 rue de Montmorency, the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, while its majestic doors represent my weekly contribution to Thursday Doors.
A Room to Swing a Cat In
What the plague hadn’t claimed was gathered on the streets of Paris for the fête of Sainte-Geneviève. Parades, farces, mocking jokes, they were all washed down with copious amounts of weak wine.
You either have the guts to do it or not.
So he did it. When the crowds broke in laughter his hand was elbow-deep in his surcoat, the parcel secured. Then he ran, the laden weight of a low Parisian sky hanging over his shoulders and him, a moving dot in a monochrome city.
He darted through a passage, away from their cheers, jumping sideways at the call of the chamber pot, slowing down past les gendarms whose hand always fell heavy on his kind of folk. His mother’s kind. Dark, with luscious hair, the keepers of the laughter and of the magic. He was proud of her gift for reading people and foretelling their future. ‘One God,’ she’d taught him, ‘for everybody.’
Yet not all were equal. And God was up. They were in the sewer.
The drizzle hitting his face forced him to bury his head between his skinny shoulders and look down when he reached the church of St Merri, that fed him now. It was the rain wetting his face, not his shame. The rain that also stung his eyes. So he picked up the pace, feeling only his heart hammering in his jacket.
He broke his run near the open market to check inside his coat, sliding on the slippery stones and bumping into a merchant yelling away his ware. His nose crushed into the fishmonger’s raw hand, yet the smell of burning wood glued to his nostrils blocked the stench. The torrent of curses fell on his ribs, but for once he didn’t care, his eyes jabbing inside his coat for a sign of life.
He licked the pink, hairless nose the way he saw its mother doing it. Two perfectly round eyes opened up on him. Hope.
So the remainder of the road he ran, he ran till he reached the tall house that bent over the road, in protection. He ran up the two flights of stairs with their many doors that sheltered the homeless, like them. He ran all the way to their tiny room at the mansard. Cozy, his mother would correct him with a laugh.
There, he stood in the only open spot and removed the kitten out of his bosom. It made a noise like a whisper and opened its round eyes on him again. The boy’s dark face lit up in a smile as big as a heart, revealing a few missing teeth. His mother will be so proud. He spun around three times like she’d taught him, making sure the cat was secure in his arms. He spun around to swing the cat for they had a room to swing a cat in. To keep it, as the gypsy believe said to do if one wanted to keep a cat.
In his father’s home, there were plenty rooms where he could swing a cat in. But an executioner’s son was not allowed to own a cat, what was allowed was to inherit his father’s job.
The House of Nicolas Flamel appeared on our Paris itinerary due to our daughter’s extraordinary interest in the world of Harry Potter.
About the house itself: Nicolas Flamel had the house built after his wife Pernelle passed away in 1397. The house (as well as several others owned by Flamel) did accommodate the homeless of Paris, or at least a part of them. Yet this is the only one still standing. The frieze above the ground floor dates from 1407, when the house was completed:
“Nous homes et femes laboureurs demourans ou porche de ceste maison qui fu fte en lan de grace mil quatre cens et sept, somes tenus chacun en droit soy dire tous les jours une patrenostre et 1 ave maria en priant dieu que sa grace face pardon aux povres pescheurs trespassez. amen.”
“We men and women labourers residing in the entryway of this house, which was built in the year 1407, vow to recite each day Our Father who Art in Heaven and Ave Maria, praying to God by whose grace accords pardon to those poor sinners (who) trespass. Amen.”
Yet Nicolas Flamel never lived here, in what is today the oldest house in Paris.
Update 🙂 I used a 14th century map of Paris to locate the House of Nicolas Flamel and trace the boy’s route:
The day of Saints-Geneviève:
During the Middle Ages, the Parisians had quite a full calendar, abundant in holidays and events that were enthusiastically celebrated, perhaps because of the precarious lives of the ordinary populace. Thus, The day of Saints-Geneviève, the patron saint of the city who allegedly saved that city from the Huns was and still is celebrated on the 3rd of January.
The origin of the saying “there was not room to swing a cat in it”:
There is a superstition in Transylvania, perhaps brought about by the gypsies whose specialty was to bear the seeds of magic and spread them about here and there, as the winds do to those of plants… In this province of Romania it is said that if a cat runs away, when recovered it must be swung around three times to attach it to the dwelling.
The same is done to a stolen cat by the thief himself, if he plans to keep it. This is a rather strange way to induce an attachment to any animal, but perhaps from the point of view of the professional cat-stealer the size of his room is a matter of greater importance.
On the Executioners Who Inherited Their Jobs
Truth be told, for centuries in France execution was a family matter and the job of an executioner was passed on from father to son.
Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, hosted by Dan Antion over at No Facilities – discover more doors from around the world.
When it comes to Transylvania, this spellbound geographical and historical province of Romania, its origin and etymology have always stirred debates. From the identity of the first settlers to the rights over the land and even the etymology of its name, the two schools of thought still engage in heated discussions. For me, as a Romanian, the explanation is crystal clear, and a long and interesting story it is. Do read it and let me know what your conclusions are.
Transylvania, what is its origin and the origin of its Romanian people?
Transylvania is a historical province located at the heart of Romania, bordered by the lush forests of the Carpathian Mountains at the west and south and the Apuseni Mountains on the west.
Transylvania has known civilization hiking through its forests and swimming in its rivers since the Paleolithic era, as the cave paintings of horses from Cuciulat, near Someș river, prove. The Neolithic Precriş culture left us the boulder head of the locals’ burial rituals.
Near Turdaș the remains of a giant Neolithic fortress were recently discovered, perhaps the first ever kingdom in the history of the world. And archeological findings dating from the Bronze Age tell stories of a settled population busy with farming, animal breeding (later, the fast Dacian horses being renowned), as well as apiculture, viticulture, hunting, fishing, crafting, tool making.
Over 600 archeological sites of which 26 fortifications from the First Iron Age, Hallstatt, were discovered across the territory of Transylvania, and, of course, incredible pottery. For millenniums, Transylvania was known as a land rich in gold, silver, iron and salt- read all about it here.
Words of Dacian origin related to viticulture are still in use today in Romanian language: butuc (stump), strugure (grape), curpen (tendril).
During the middle of the first century BC the Dacians living on current day Romanian territory, especially Transylvania, were led by Burebista.
Burebista, “the first and greatest of the kings of Thrace.”
The Dionysopolitan decree made in honor of Acornion.
Why only Romanians speak a Latin Language in southeast Europe?
The origin of Romanian people
In 117 AD, when the Roman Empire had reached its most august magnitude under the ruling of Emperor Trajan, the Romanian territories at that time were known as Dacia and had just been conquered by Romans (after two bloody wars: 101-102, and 105-106).
Like with many other nations conquered by the Roman Empire, the local Geto-Dacian population (which was Thracian by origin) had to adopt and adapt to the Roman culture, including the Latin language. They had 150 years to do so, till the Roman Empire’s withdrawal from Dacia. Different times were those, with an average life expectancy of 30 to 35 years and maybe slightly longer for women. So what looks like two generations today, meant four or five generations during Classical Rome.
Today there are at least eighty words of Dacian origin still in use in the Romanian language, mostly names of plants, animals, forms of relief. For example, Romanian word for Danube: Dunăre, derving from Donawi, Dunawi.
How Latin language was assimilated by Dacians during Roman occupation
I was reading an article about how Latin was assimilated by Dacians and how the new, Latin words were used alongside the native vocabulary, still in use. Think of synonyms. For example white, alb in Romanian is still in use today. The Latin form, albus, denoted the color, generally speaking. But the synonym for white kept from Dacian language, bardzu (and still in use today in a few areas of Transylvania) is more specific, bălțată being used to describe animals whose fur is only speckled with white.
“The high number of Latin terms in agriculture, animal husbandry and the shepherds’ life prove that, besides the shepherds who drove their flocks throughout Romania’s territories, contributing by their movement to standardizing the language, there were also sedentary Romanians employed in farming and stock breeding”
Sextil Pușcariu, Limba română
After the Roman withdrawal from Dacia and until the 4th century AD many neighboring tribes came to Transylvania, stayed for a while, took what they could and then went their separate ways – as you can read in my previous blog post here. Then the Slavs also visited, stayed longer as they were peaceful tribes, mingled with the local Daco–Roman population. Till the 9th century when the Bulgarian Empire stretched over Transylvania, coming from the south of Danube river although the degree to which most of the territory in Transylvania was under Bulgarian control is disputed.
The period of late antiquity and early Middle Ages, especially in Eastern Europe, does not provide much information. Nor for local Daco-Romanian population, nor for invaders, be it Bulgarians or Hungarians. But what does remain is the language used by the local population, the Dacians, reflected in contemporary vocabulary as well as in the names of cities and the geographical forms of relief, especially rivers, and in the folklore and the local traditions.
As the Romans withdrew from Dacia (Transylvania included), I believe it is exactly the apparition of the new, various invaders who came in waves for almost 1 000 years that helped the native Daco-Romanian population outline and strengthen its national identity. A pattern of establishing new relationships between the inhabitants of Dacia, Latin speakers, and the invaders would have also developed, while the product would have emerged as Vlachs. And instead of one place we can pinpoint on a map, there would have been a multitude of such places of origin from where the newly formed nation and its spirit would have spread out to the larger areas, the ones we know of for certitude today.
During the last fifty years archeological discoveries have unearthed more than 2000 settlements and necropolises discovered over the entire territory of Romania and dating between the 9th and 11th centuries. They show a demographical concentration in the plains, hills, highlands, but also in the subcarpathian areas, revealing various degrees of political organization. For example at Biharea, where Menumorut’s fortress was located, and around it, were discovered by I. Crişan, the remains of 133 archeological sites of Romanian and Romanian-Slav villages, fairs, and citadels dating from the 8th – 11th century, proving the existence of a Romanian, indigenous civilization and culture.
To summarize, we can see that most of Romania was part of Roman Empire and remained so for five generations, as were all of today’s Latin speaking European countries. Geto-Dacians learned Latin, as the words of Latin origin still in use in Romanian language today prove. After Romans withdrew from Dacia, a solid Latin speaking population stayed behind, away from the main roads, inhabiting deserted Roman temples and the sacred mountains, where they found refuge and peace. The tribes that washed over Romanian territories in the following years influenced the language and the culture of the Romanian people, in turn borrowing from them into their own culture, co-habituating with the local Romanian population. Latin names of rivers, agricultural terms, animal husbandry and terms used in a shepherds’ life still in use today all prove the existance of a strong Latin civilasation living throughout the centuries in today’s Romania.
Nestor’s chronicle (Povest vremennykh let) on the history of Slavs in Romania and the presence of Romanians, Vlachs, in Transylvania
Chronicle of Nestor or Kiev Chronicle or The Russian Primary Chronicle is a medieval historical work offering detailed accounts of the early history of eastern Slavs to the beginning of the 12th century. The chronicle was compiled in Kiev around 1113, based on materials from Byzantine chronicles, Slavonic literary sources, official documents, and oral sagas. The earliest manuscript still existing is dated to 1377. While the authorship was traditionally attributed to monk Nestor, modern scholars considers the chronicle to be a composite work.
Nestor’s chronicle provides us with some of the oldest testimony of the Romanians by referring to relationships between the Wallachians, the white Ugrii, and the Slavs. The same chronicle refers to the Hungarian’s initial advance though the Verecke mountain pass towards the Tisa Plain, or Tizsa, and how the Hungarians fought the Wallachians and the Slavs living here (Tisa plains are located west of today’s north-west border of Romania).
For it was through the Verecke mountain pass that in 895 the Hungarian tribes entered the Carpathian Basin and during the next two centuries established the Kingdom of Hungary.
11th century Historian Gardizi and his Book, The Ornament ofHistories, on the Romanians living in Transylvania
Gardizi was an author and historian living in the mid-eleventh century. In his work The Ornament of Histories he mentions the people in the Roman Empire, placed between Russians, Bulgarians and Hungarians, on a territory north of Danube and a mountain that can be easily identified with the Carpathians. He describes them as people more numerous than the Hungarians, but politically weaker. Dare I say it out loud, Daco-Romans?
Țara, country, its etymology and what its use on Romania’s political map of the IX – XIII centuries means
Țara in Romanian means land or country. It has an archaic form țeară. It derives from the Latin terra, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *ters- (“dry”). (Wikipedia)
What is the significance of Țara Bihorului, Țara Oașului, Țara Maramuresului, Țara Romanilor, Țara Iaşilor, Țara Severinului, Țara Hategului, Țara Zarandului, Țara Alba, Țara Fagarasului, Țara Oltului on the map of Romanian political counties during IX – XIII centuries above? It shows that those political entities had a judicial community and a leader, that small communities of Romanians were organised in counties, Țara. Thus were territories already inhabited – at the time of the Hungarian invasion of Transylvania’s west territories.
According to Romanian historian Gheorghe Bratianu:
“The equivalent of terra [Țara] from the medieval documents has the implication of a judicial community, of a region in which a certain local custom influences and determines the administration of justice… and which – as consensus – the leader of the country has to consider.”
Romanian historian Gheorghe Bratianu
The Latin etymological origin of the Transylvania noun
Transylvania, etymologically speaking, means beyond the forest.
Transylvania, etymologically speaking, means “beyond the forest.” In Latin, trans means “beyond” or “on the other side of”, deriving in turn from from Proto-Indo-European “trhnts,” from “terh-” meaning “through, throughout, over.” It is found in Celtic too, as “trānss”, keeping its meaning. And in Latin, silva means “wood, forest”.
It is easy to see why outlanders would refer to Transylvania as the land beyond the forest, surrounded as it was – and still is – by the Carpathian Mountains, rich in coniferous and secular, lofty oak trees.
Did you know? On the plains once found between the gentle slopes of the Apuseni Mountains (west on the map above) and the low plain of Tisa (the river along north-west and west on the map), once stood an impressive deciduous forest. It was during the 18th century, that it started to be cut down and to make space for agricultural fields.
Also… at the confluence of Tisa with quite a few rivers, among them Someş, Criş, Mureş, and Timiş on the map above, during antiquity and the Middle Age there was a rage of deltas and swamps.
In his book From Zalmoxix to Genghi Han, Romanian religious historian, philosopher and writer Mircea Eliade writes that when a nation’s ethnicity is the image of an animal, there is always a religious explanation behind it. We don’t know yet why, but we do know from Strabon that Dacians were the first to call themselves dáoi (wolves).
How interesting to discover this about Dacians, while the land where they lived, surrounded by forested mountains, was (later, in 10th century) known as “terra ultra silvam” -land beyond the forest. Then “Ultra Silvam” in a 1075 document, becoming Ultrasilvania in Medieval Latin, and eventually Transylvania.
A Mercurius Princeps Ultrasilvanus, a Transylvanian Voievode or ruler, was even mentioned in a document dated 1103.
The first Medieval Latin name for Transylvania, Ultrasylvania or terra Ultrasilvana dates from 10th – 11th century, at a time when Hungarian border still stretched to the west of the Apuseni Mountains (western Romanian Carpathians).
Codrul Frate cu Romanu’ – The Woodland, Romanian’s Brother – The forest in Romanian folklore and its symbology
From Dacian times, the woodland and the Romanians have been two inseparable entities. The forest has been, in turn, temple and refuge for the warrior, the citizen and, later, for the hajduk, haiduc (a Robin Hood-like figure from southeastern Europe during the 17th – 19th century). Even the rulers of the Ottoman Empire, during its two and a half centuries old warfare against the Romanians, had the thick forests of these lands on their three most difficult factors in fighting a war. The other two were the majestic Carpathian mountains and the cold winters.
the name of the Teleorman County (in south of Wallachia, Tara Romaneasca, by the Danube, comes from Turkish (Cumanic) Deli orman, crazy forest.
in Romanian folklore and mythology the trees (sanctuaries for Gods and Demons), especially the sycamore, fir tree, willow, and apple tree are seen as guides, accompanying a human’s soul along his last road.
in Romanian symbology the tree of life represents rebirth and forever life.
“Codru’ este mare Si lumina n-are; Codru este des Intri, nu mai iesi…”
“The woodland is wide And has no light; The woodland is thick You enter, never to leave…”
“Sufletul statea Si mi se ruga: Brade, brade! Sa-mi fii frate: Intinde-ti, intinde, Eu sa le pot prinde Varfurile tale, Sa trec peste ele”
“My soul stopped And it implored: Fir tree, fir tree! My brother thou be: Spread thou, spread Your tree tops shed, May I over ’em fled.”
Romanian ritualistic funeral song, translated from Romanian by Patricia Furstenberg
The Hungarian etymological origin of the Transylvania noun
The earliest Hungarian records of Gesta Hungarorum, Chronicleof Anonymous
One of the earliest Hungarian records is Gesta Hungarorum, The Deeds of the Hungarians, is a 12th century manuscript with a previous 11th century version. It tells the history of Hungarian tribes from the time they arrived on the Panonian Plains (west of today’s Romania) around 896 and until the times of King Andrei I (1046 – 1060).
In Gesta Hungarorum we find some of the earliest Hungarian records of the three Romanian duchies existing in Transylvania and to its west at the time of the first Hungarian invasion. Vlachs, Slavs and Bulgarians lived here, “Sclavi, Bulgarii et Blachii ac pastores Romanorum“(Blachii meaning Vlachs, the shepherds of Romans).
Transylvania lived up to its nickname being a pastoral land. Its wide valleys are fertile and its mountain slopes offer lush grazing for countless flocks of sheep.
Proof that Vlachs, Romnaians, lived here is the use of word duca, ducatus in Gesta Hungarorum. Duca derives from Latin dux, ducis, meaning leader. Only Romanians living here would have called their leader duca, although eventually it was replaced by the Slavonic Voievod.
The Hungarian etymological explanation for the noun Transylvania
During the X – XI centuries, pushed by tribes of Bulgars and Pechenegs, the Hungarian tribes left he north steppe and settled on the plains of Crișana, between Tisa river on the west, Apusei Mountains to the east, Someș river in the north and Mureș river in the south, where they would have found tribes of Slavs and Avars, with Romaniansalready setteled higher up on the slopes.
Slavs have lived on the plains of Crișana for a few centuries now, while the highland region to the east, over the forests and into Transylvania, has a predominant Romanian, Latin-speaking population.
So the plain-loving Magyars of Hungarians found themselves surrounded by waters from three sides, and only forests on the rim of mountainous Transylvania shutting them off on the east. For Magyars, the space they took over was on this side of the forest, while what lay over the forest, on the other side of the forest, (ultra, trans) was unknown – the Duchy of Gelou.
In Hungarian erdő and ardo means forest. The first Hungarian name for Transylvania was Erde-elw, then Erdély, meaning the country over the forest.
It was only after year 1000 when King Stephen I of Hungary mass-converted the Hungarians to Christianity that Latin became the official language of Hungarian chancellery, thus Erdély translated to Ultransilvana, then Transilvana and eventually Transilvania, Transylvania. Various combinations have also been encountered, such as princeps Ultrasilvanus (for a leader), Provincia Transilvana, Ultrasilvam Regnum (Kingdom).
The first written evidence is from 1075: “Ultra silvam ad castrum quod vocatur Turda,” translating to “Beyond the forest to the castle which is Turda.”
The socio-cultural and historical setting at the time when Hungarian tribes settled west of Transylvania
To summarize the ethnogenesis of the Romanian people, the largest nation in southeast Europe (except for the Turkish one), we must list the three main constitutive ethnic elements: the native population (Geto-Dacians), the conquerors (Romans), and the migrating people (the Slavs).
The Slavs, who preferred the plains, called the mountainous region inhabited by the Geto-Dacian speakers of Latin either Zagoria (Slavic Zagore means beyond the mountains) or Vlahia.
When Hungarians first settled on the plains west of Apuseni Mountains the Slavs lived there. Hungarians call a Vlach Olah, which suggests that they borrowed from the Slavs the first information about neighboring places and peoples.
What the modern DNA analysis saysabout the origin of Romanians
Throughout millennia, Romania found itself on the chessboards of many empires, and a major crossroad between Europe and Asia.
What can the study of Romanian DNA tell us that we don’t already know, or can it shine a light on a new concept regarding the continuity of Romanian people on these lands?
A recent study analyzed mtDNA (Mitochondrial DNA) sequences from Romanian Neolithic samples.
Mitochondrial DNA, unlike nuclear DNA, is inherited from the mother, while nuclear DNA is inherited from both parents. Thus mtDNA is important because testing mtDNA allows for investigation into one’s maternal line and can help identify living relatives whose mtDNA is similar to yours, as well as ancient migration routes your maternal ancestors may have taken.
For this study, mtDNA from ten sites from the current territory of Romania, spanning a time-period from the Early Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age, were analyzed.
mtDNA data from Early Neolithic farmers of the Starčevo Criş culture in Romania (the sites of Cârcea in south, Gura Baciului in north, and Negrileşti to the east on the map below) confirm their genetic relationship with those of the LBK culture (Linienbandkeramik Kultur, Linear Pottery Culture) in Central Europe Neolithic, 5500–4500 BC, and they show little genetic continuity with modern European populations.
mtDNA data from Middle-Late Neolithic cultures of Boian (south east of Decea Muresului), Zau (east of Decea), and Gumelniţa (south east) had a much stronger effect on the genetic heritage of the European populations.
This study shows that Middle Neolithic populations, ‘M_NEO’,that lived in what is present-day Romania/Transylvania and modern populations from Romania are very close, in contrast with Middle Neolithic and modern populations from Central Europe.
Such genome analyses of living populations show that intra-European diversity is a continuum (with small exception). Romanians’ DNA is close to that of their Balkan and East European neighbors. Here, Romanian DNA is closest to that of Albanians, Greeks, and Bulgarians, then Macedonians, and further from the DNA of central and eastern Europeans like Hungarians, Czechs, Poles and Ukrainians.
On the other hand, the Balkans, because of the various migrations, are the most genetically diverse region in Europe.
But the Romans themselves, were a genetic pool already when their Empire reached its peak, think of the massive immigration into Rome and its vast army alone, spanning three continents, and tens of millions of people across Europe, the Near East, and North Africa.
The connection between central European mtDNA and mtDNA from the Romanina provinces, Transylvania, Wallachia, Dobrudja, and Moldavia
genetic affinities, illustrated by the mtDNA haplogroup frequencies, among the four Romanian provinces;
gene flow between Moldavia-Wallachia and Moldavia-Transylvania, suggesting gene flow between these provinces (mainly due to the substantial workforce movement from Moldavia towards these two provinces throughout the communist period);
genetic similarity of the Wallachia, Moldavia, and Dobrudja groups with the Balkans, especially the Slavic population;
Transylvania population closely related to the Central European groups, as influenced by the topology of the Romanian territory.
The Genetic pool of Roman Empire at the time of Dacian occupation
As we can see from the genetic map of Imperial Rome at the time they conquered Dacia, presented below, Rome and the Roman Empire was already a cosmopolitan place, people with different ancestry mingled and cohabited.
This is the genetic pool (eastern-Mediterranean, near-eastern, European, Mediteranean) that would have mingled with the Geto-Dacian own genetic pool – to later form the Romanian DNA.
You can follow the short explanation below, where Stanford researchers and their European colleagues drew on ancient DNA to construct the first genetic history of Rome. Their data reveal major shifts in the ancestry of people living in Rome, as well as several smaller shifts corresponding to important events in the history and politics of Rome. The original research is here.
I am still to find a more recent study looking at how present-day southeastern European populations was created, perhaps by aligning Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman, and Medieval groups mtDNA and comparing them to present-day mtDNA of various European populations – while considering that there is a higher population density in the eastern Mediterranean Europe than it is in the west. Also, I would like to read a study looking into genetic links between past populations inhabiting the Romanian territories.
Sources used in Transylvania, Romania, Its Origin and Etymology
Aurel-Pup, I., Radacinile Medievale ale regiunii (provinciei) istorice Transilvania (secolele IX – XIII) Bogdan, Gh., Memory, Identity, Typology: An Interdisciplinary Reconstruction of Vlach Ethnohistory Chronicle of Nestor, The Russian Primary Chronicle, Britannica Cocoş, R., Schipor, S., Hervella, M. et al. Genetic affinities among the historical provinces of Romania and Central Europe as revealed by an mtDNA analysis. BMC Genet18, 20 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12863-017-0487-5 Collins., N. Stanford researchers lay out first genetic history of Rome Djuvara, N., O Scurta Istorie a Romanilor Povestita celor Tineri Hervella M, Rotea M, Izagirre N, Constantinescu M, Ancient DNA from South-East Europe Reveals Different Events during Early and Middle Neolithic Influencing the European Genetic Heritage Sfrengeu, F., Dr. Aspects Regarding the Evolution of the Political Organization in North-Western Romania at the Beginning of the Middle Age Ziarul Renasterea, Transilvania sau Ardeal, Prof. I. Lupas, Cluj, Editia 18 Februarie 1940
Travel Through Doors and discover the best doors as seen in my 2020 Thursday Doors blog posts. Thursday Doors is a blog feature everyone can take part in, initiated by Norm who later presented the baton to Dan.
Dan has a Badge Idea contest for Thursday Doors running until 11:59 pm Thursday, December 31st (North American Eastern Time). Check his website for rules and maybe give it a try! The last image in this blog post is my entry.
Ans so it began, my journey around Europe (okay, mostly Romania) for Thursday Doors. We first traveled to Brasov, with The Church Door, a (very) short story:
My all time favorite must be this 500 years old door from Corvin Castle who even made it through the great fire of 13 April 1854:
We looked at Corvin Castle’s Coat of Arms too and at two rather grand doors embellished with jambs, tympanum and pinnacles, and at a short history of door knocking – find it all here. And we returned in a second visit here.
Small shrines can often be found in Romania, build so that weary travelers can have a moment of peace, for thought, for prayer, for palliation. This is a shrine from Brasov, before reaching the Black Church as you would stroll down a winding road from Șcheii Brașovului:
The second image above reads: ‘This cross was raised in 1761 by Gh. (Gheorghe) Anania and restored in 1992.’
Our next travel stop was at a monastery built for peace, Snagov Monastery, where we looked at medieval plots and at revenge:
Next we visited Brancoveanu Monastery at Sambata de Sus, a Romanian Orthodox monastery in Brașov County, in the Transylvania region of Romania, renowed for its white-washed walls. At the end of the 17th century Constantin Brâncoveanu, Prince of Wallachia, built a stone church (1688-1714) in place of an older wooden one:
If you wonder how a Wallachian Voievode built a monastery in a different principality, know that the hamlet and the land on which the monastery was built belonged to Preda Brâncoveanu, his grandfather. Who even built a small wooden church on it in 1654.
For a chilling stop we traveled next to Fagaras Castle to see its Iron Maiden, this symbol of medieval violence:
Bran Castle means many things to different people. To me, it is a door to heaven. Legend says that the Doors to Heaven are here, in Bucegi Mountains, near Bran Pass and Ialomița Cave. That is you climb that peak on a clear winter night, you will be welcomed by a meadow underneath a dome of stars. And the doors to Heaven will be revealed to you. You will know it by their starry pillars, and by the energy that will seep into your bones:
Medieval Bran Castle, located at historical Bran Pass, is a fortress turned legend yet its door had been kept under key for centuries. Discover its story and doors, for Norm’s last Thursday Doors.
Legend says that the Doors to Heaven are here, in Bucegi Mountains, near Bran Pass and Ialomița Cave. That is you climb that peak on a clear winter night, you will be welcomed by a meadow underneath a dome of stars. And the doors to Heaven will be revealed to you. Do not fear missing them, for you will know it by their starry pillars, and by the energy that will seep into your bones.
Bran Pass, a Door to Heaven
Guarded by Bucegi Mountains on the east and Piatra Craiului Highlands, Prince’s Stone, on the west, it is through Bran Pass that, ahead of wintertime, the Dacian shepherds took their flock from the forested mountains of Transylvania down to the warmer and lush hills of Arges County in search of the same endless meadows their forefathers knew. Plains bordered by sweet, unhurried streams. And through the same pass they returned home before the heat of southern summers, bringing along a new generation of lambs, stories of people speaking a similar tongue, and the wisdom that’s the school of life.
At a time when names such as Transylvania and Arges were not even the thought of a whisper.
And in same sweet brooks Romans quenched their thirst too. When they took to the mountains of Dacia, the Bucegi, sneaking also through Bran Pass, marching uphill and building a fort at Cumidava (Râsnov today). How many sandals did they tear to shreds on these stones, I wonder? Later they chose to set a strong hand on Bran Pass, kept it under lock and key.
Bran, a wooden tower
And then, after Transylvania and its Vlach population fell under the stronghold of the Hungarian tribes and Hungary grew to the size of an empire under King Andrew II, Andrew of Jerusalem, it was here, at Brand Pass, that in 1212 Brother Dietrich of the Teutonic Order, with Pope’s explicit blessing, built a wooden sentry post. Bran Pass, known then as Dietrichstein or Toerzburg, became a buffer zone, the Teutonic knights holding the fort, protecting Transylvania’s Burzenland (today Brasov), thus Hungary, against the Cumans and their gruesome raids.
On the geopolitical chessboard, Bran Pass is the pawn holding a secret, that of being promoted. Bran Pass turns now from a bucolic trail into a military Avant-post.
Bran Castle, a state border made of stone
Following the 14th century expansion of the Hungarian Kingdom under Ludovic I of Anjou (the same Anjou family who built the initial Corvin Fortress on a former Roman camp), the privilege was granted to the inhabitants of Brasov to “freely and unforced but in good will, generously and unanimously promised to build a new stronghold in Bran, by themselves, by their own work, by their own money and clear the wood all around,” (The National Archives). It was a good deal for inhabitants of Brasov as their custom taxes have been considerably reduced. A castle rose in five years due to the increased threat the Ottoman Empire embodied.
Yet Bran stronghold was still Magyar Royal Crown’s property.
Bran Stronghold Ruled by Wallachia
We are at the end of the 14th century and the Ottoman wave rises like a tsunami over the Balkans. Hungarian King Sigismund of Luxembourg (architect of the Order of the Dragon) closes ties with Wallachian Voivode Mircea the Elder, Mircea cel Bătrân, grandfather to Vlad Tepes, against the Turkish threat. As a token of his appreciation (or a well-thought plan) he gifts Bran stronghold to Wallachia around 1412. To protect against Turkish invasions, the custom being moved back to Brasov.
Yet Sigismund took back Bran stronghold only fourteen years later, due to economic and military reasons ,and returned it to the citadel of Brasov who held it until the roaring twenties, 1920.
Bran Castle, A Royal Residence
At the end of World War I the Treaty of Trianon finally recognises Transylvania as a non-Hungarian region, reconciling it with Romania.
December 1st, 1920: “We, the members of the Town Council of Brasov – as it is mentioned in the deed of gift – … grant the ancient Bran castle, historically meaningful, to Her Majesty Queen Maria of the Unified Romania.” Queen Maria left Bran Castle to her beloved daughter, Princess Ileana.
Sadly, in 1948 Princess Ileana was forced to leave Bran, the castle seized by the communist regime and introduced in Romania’s national patrimony.
We were lucky to have visited Bran Castle a few times, yet I am looking forward to seeing it again. It is an intimate fortress, one feels welcomed inside it, a dreamer, a princess, a soldier – at home.
In Wish I May, Wish I Might, Own Transylvania by Tonight I tell the story of the very first attempt to conquer Transylvania led by Hungarian tribes (Magyars).
This is the third post in my series on Transylvania, living and understanding the history of this Romanian historical province. During the last year I read extensively on the subject as part of my research for an upcoming historical novel set in Medieval Transylvania.
Join me and let’s dive into the turbulent waters of the Balkan history since this area from the southeastern Europe was often the subject of imperial greed and national goals.
Many said, few believed, yet they all came to see for themselves, and to take with both hands when the legend proved true… many said that the gold found in the Carpathian Mountains bordering Transylvania, as well as the salt and the iron found here underfoot, in the Carpathian Basin, were the best gold, the strongest iron, and the whitest salt there was.
If you read Stories and History of Transylvania, Prehistory to Roman Dacia and Transylvania during the Roman Dacia and until 4th century AD, you will definitely want to find out:
First, what happened in Transylvania between the 4th and the 9th century?
Starting with the end of the 3rd century the Carpathian-Danubian space has witnessed an intense process of migrations. First were the German tribes, the Goths (235 – 376). They soon disappeared south of Danube, chased away by Huns and Mongolian horsemen, (375 – 454), living from predatory expeditions and soon disappearing too, like a quick fire, after being defeated.
Then the Slavs arrived, people that were more sedentary, less predatory, between the 7th and the 9th century, choosing to settle in the valleys and the planes of Dacia (mostly Moldavia in east and Muntenia at the north of Danube), while the remainder of the Dacian population still occupied the forested hills and the mountains, living as farmers and shepherds – in an attempt to hide, as Christians, from the pagan tribes.
But they did mingled, eventually, and truth is that the Slavonic language influenced the Latin language spoken by the Romanians. Although the Slavs learned Latin too, but speaking it with a heavier accent that, in turn, seemed to have been adopted by the Romanian population. And we can hear it today, as Romanian is pronounced different compared to the other Romance languages such as French, Italian, Sardinian, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Provenҫal, Rhaeto -Romanic (and let’s remember the lost Dalmatian too).
Romanian words of Dacian origin relate to household, body parts and animals:
“The high number of Latin terms in agriculture, animal husbandry and the shepherds’ life prove that, besides the shepherds who drove their flocks throughout Romania’s territories, contributing by their movement to standardizing the language, there were also sedentary Romanians employed in farming and stock breeding”
I. I. Rusu, Elemente autohtone în limba română – Romanian words of Dacian origin
The origin of the Romanians is to be found in the “Getae who had once ruled Dacia and the Romans commanded by Flacus”
Johannes Honterus, 16th century Transylvanian Saxon, renaissance humanist, Protestant reformer, theologian
When Slavs immigrated into the Dacian territory they did not give new names to places, but adopted their Daco-Roman names already in use, something that was only possible if there was a Daco-Roman population to tell them those names: Alutus became Olt, Maryssus became Mureș, Samus is Someș, Ordessos is Argeș, Pyretos-Porata became Prut.
Next, between the 8th century when the Avars visited and the 10th century when the Magyars came forward, the Bulgarian Tsar had time to extend his authority north of Danube, over a part of our lands, Muntenia and Transylvania. Much later more neighboring tribes visited, as well as the Székely and the Saxons (German migrants) in Transylvania, culminating with the Tatars in 1241.
Why would a neighboring tribe invade another land? For the promise of a better life, abundance of food and resources. A greener pasture. Although one must admit that their visit gave economy and social relations a boost,
Again, the wealth of resources found in the Southern Carpathians and Transylvania, salt, copper, iron and gold, becomes the reason of intense trade as well as foreign interest in this old territory of today’s Romania. The salt was a rare commodity in these regions and was essential for the nomadic herders, thus trade flourished along the Danube and its tributaries. And through trade, various cultures influenced one another.
The word român was first ever recorded in Romanian in The Book Palia de la Orăștie, 1581, the first Romanian translation of the Old Testament.
When the Hungarians (Magyars) arrived in Transylvania
The Hungarians (Magyars, how they call themselves), are people of Fino-Ugric descent who traveled from the Ural Mountains along Volga, then south west and settled in the Pannonic plain in the dusk of the first millennium.
Thus, it is written (by Anonymous) in Gesta Hungarorum, The Deeds of the Hungarians (a 12th century manuscript with a previous 11th century version), that Tuhutum (or Tétény) was one of the Seven Magyar Chieftains that lived with their clans along the Ural Mountains during the 9th – 10th centuries, around year 934. Tuhutum did not live to become chieftain based on his fighting skills alone, but through good planning and a cunning mind too.
One day Tuhutum heard of a rich land, called the Land Beyond the Forest, or Transylvania. And he felt his money pouch suddenly too light for his liking. And the more he thought about the riches they said that Transylvania owned, the more he felt his mouth water.
Perhaps he was a visionary too – and some might argue my reasoning. For he saw greener pastures where his people could live a better life. A land with enough iron for strong weapons, with forests filled with game and valleys drenched in sweet rivers, rich in fish. A land where a local population of not really warriors, but herders established within transhumance already lived. A land where life was good and promising.
Had Tuhutum’s mind worked like this? None can tell for sure, but we can presume. For the decision he made changed the lives of two nations, for ever.
Except that one thing stood in his way. More precise, three people: Gelou, Glad and Menumorut.
Gelou was the brave Vlach (ruler of Transylvania) – as mentioned in Gesta Hungarorum. Glad ruled over Banat (today south-west of Romania and part of Serbia). Menumorut ruled in the west, the lands between the rivers Mureș, Someș and Tisza . Oh, and the fact that the land he wanted so much was not his. Yet.
Wish I May, Wish I Might, Own Transylvania by Tonight – Tuhutum thought.
First, what was a Vlach? Where did the word came from and what does it mean?
Etymology of the term Vlach
A Vlach, from Proto-Germanic walhaz, is a Romance-speaker person or group of people, a speaker of a Latin language.
The first proto-Germanic word known to be used with this connotation was walhiska during Roman Iron Age, when on a bracteat (disc made of gold and engraved) was written in runic alphabet walhakurne, “Roman/Gallic grain” (gold coin).
The prefix walh– / walha-/ later wala– is important as it means foreign. In the Frankish Table of Nations compiled in 520 there is a mention of a the Walagothi or Ualagothi people, the Romance-speaking Goths, probably the Visigoths of Spain.
Later, a Walhaz(in proto-Germanic) became the name a Celtic tribe neighboring the Germanic people and known to Romans as Volcae (after a northern legend). By extension, Walhōzwas applied to any southern neighbors of the Germanic people – who by then were all Romanised. German speakers soon used the term Walhōz to name any Celt or Romanised tribe.
Walh– and walhiskfrom Old High German (750 – 1050) became Walch and welschin Middle High German (1050 – 1350), and Welsche in Early New High German (1350 – 1650) and Swiss German as the exonym (external name for a group of people) for Romance speakers.
Before 7th century, in Central and Eastern Europe Walhswas used in Proto-Slavonic (volxъ) to describe the Romance people, although the first source of Walhs usage comes from an 11th century writing by a Byzantine historian, George Kedrenos.
From the Slavs, Walhs was passed on to Hungarians, becoming Oláh when referring to Romanian Vlachs and Olasz when referring to Italians. From Hungarians and Romanians it sipped into the Ottoman Empire, the Turks using Ulahlar (to denote native Balkan Christian due to the cultural link between Christianity and Roman culture), to the Polish people (Włoch), while the Byzantines used Βλάχοι, Vláhi. In Serbia the term Vlach (Serbian Vlah, plural Vlasi) is used to refer to any Romanian speakers.
From 1222 we have the first written document (signed by Andrew II of Hungary) mentioning the Romanians in Transylvania and referring to the land where they lived as Vlach lands (“Terra Blacorum“). It was the Făgăraș Region. All these forms refer to the same group of people, Latin speaking people of the Balkans, living north and south of Danube – and later also to shepherd, as this was the occupation of many of the Vlachs of Central and Eastern Europe.
The Hungarian tribes under Tuhutum attack Vlach Gelou’s Transylvania
So Tuhutum sighed, and sighed some more, and thought of the easiest way to gain this rich land. Wish I May, Wish I Might…
First he sent a spy, a sly and clever man by the name of Ogmand, his most trusted man for their minds worked the same, to steal into that land of riches, like a fox would, and observe its people, their habits and trades, and mostly check if the land’s fertility is just as everyone said it was. Then return and report, and advise – will it be possible? Will it be easy for Tuhutum to gain ownership of this land? For Tuhutum wished for fame and riches.
Not long after, Ogmand returned in quick gallop and told Tuhutum that he felt like a wolf among lambs, for as far as human eyes could see the earth was fertile, fed by the sweetest of rivers, naming quite a few of them for they shone with the gold that mingled with sand through their riverbeds. He said next that the gold found here was of the purest kind, that salt is abundant too, as is the water from the wells.
When Tuhutum inquired of the people living in Transylvania, Ogmand said that they are of the worst kind, the Blachi (medieval Latin term for Vlach) and the Slavs, for they only know agriculture and forestry, trade and mining, but nothing of war.
“és azon föld lakosai az egész világon a leghitványabb emberek, mivel oláhok és szlávok, s mivel íjjon és nyilon kívül más fegyverük nincs, és hogy vezérük Gelou sem igen bátor és nincsenek körötte jó vitézek, hogy ellene mernének állni a magyarok merész-“
“and the inhabitants of that land are the worst people in the world, Olahs and Slavs, because except for the bow and arrow they do not have no other weapon and that their leader is Gelou, nor is he very brave, and there are no good knights around him, that they would dare to oppose the bold”
And then he added that they, the Olahs, have the poorest of weapons, even those kept for hunting, bows and arrows only and so is their leader, Duke Gelou, who does not own a great personal army nor is his army strong, especially after the continuous attacks of the neighboring tribes of Cumans and Pechenegs.
‘Can I take them?’ thundered Tuhutum and his eyes shone at the thought, life flooding in his cheeks, his mouth watering, thinking to himself ‘Wish I May, Wish I Might, Own Transylvania by Tonight.’ ‘An easy catch. They will not know how to fight you,’ said Ogmand with a bow.
On hearing about the richness of the Land Beyond the Forest, of its pure gold and abundant salt mines, this white gold his people craved (for cattle and for preserving the meats), and what easy a pray would be for him to take it all, and even from the mouth of his own man, Tuhutum rubbed his hands. Choosing to desert the other two Hungarian warlords, Zobolsu and Thosu, who were already fighting the Dutchy of Menumorout, Tuhutum sent ambassadors to sigh at the ears of Duke Arpad (the Arpads were the ruling dynasty of the Principality of Hungary in the 9th and 10th centuries and of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1000 to 1301), and to ask permission for him to march with his mighty troops beyond the forest, to Transylvania, and attack Gelou and its people.
Attack, not take over the land. And his request for attack was soon granted permission.
Word soon reached Gelou of invaders coming his way and perhaps of other Magyar troops having conquered the land of Menumorut, to the west. And Gelou gathered his army and rode as fast as the wind to the west border of his intra-Carpathian Duchy, to stop the Hungarian invaders. But Tuhutum had divided his army and sent one part upstream, to cross the Almaş water and surprise Gelou. The two troops indeed met and fought near Almaș and then Gelou was killed on the banks of the Căpuș River, while retreating to his Liteni Fortress on Someș, where only vultures dared. (Some sources mention Fortress Dăbâca as being Gelou’s stronghold).
Eventually Tuhutum’s wish came true and he became the ruler the Land Beyond the Forest, Transylvanian, a title he kept for himself as well as for his sons and their son’s sons.
This is how by the end of the early Middle Ages Transylvania had known a prosperous cultural diversity on a strong Dacian-Roman foundation, still assimilating newcomers. Now it was the Hungarian’s turn to explore its rich and prosperous land.
Over eighty voievods ruled Transylvania after Tuhutum until 1441 whenIancu de Hunedoaratook over(aka John Hunyadi, perhaps the first Transylvanian ruler of Romanian origin after Gelou), and forty more till 1599 when Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave) “unified” for the first time Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia.Around year 1000, when St. Stephen I become Prince of Hungarian, Transylvania is annexed to the Hungarian Kingdom.
Sextil Pușcariu noted that a number of Latin words from Daco-Romanian were preserved exclusively in Western Transylvania, Apuseni mountains, as regionalisms, this supporting the idea that here, in Transylvania, lived one of the main groups of the Daco-Roman population: ai (garlic), păcurar (shepherd), nea (snow), june (youth), pedestru (pedestrian).
The Hungarian conquest of Transylvania started as a small migration of tribes in search of a greener pasture (perhaps pushed by the Bulgar-Pecheneg coalition), while exploiting local conflicts and slowly strengthening their position in the Intra-Carpathian region, Transylvania, and to its west through military raids, gradually establishing a Christian Hungarian monarchy.
Also to read (coming soon): Romanian Transylvania, It’s Origin and Etymology
Sources for Wish I May, Wish I Might, Own Transylvania by Tonight:
Brie, Mircea, A Social History of Romanian Space. From the Beginning of Dacian state until the rise of Modernity Giurescu, Constantin C., The Making of the Romanian People and Language Hanners, Melodie, The History of the Romanian Language Niculescu, Alexandru. Outline History of the Romanian Language Rusu, I.I., Elemente autohtone în limba română Internet Archive, A magyar honfoglalás mondái – Gesta Hungarorum Pușcariu, Sextil, Limba română