The term “Vlach” has become derogatory to describe shepherds or generally “country people” in Greece. However, the people from whom the name originated, the Vlachs, are a proud ethnic group of Greeks who have a long and distinct history and culture. The Vlachs were, in fact, pastoralists who moved from the highlands to the lowlands from summer to winter, respectively.
In the 11th century, the Greek Historian George Kedrenos was the first to identify the Vlachs as a separate and independent ethnic group. However, their origin is still a contested mystery. Some believe they are descended from the ancient Dacians. Others believe the Vlachs’ roots originated from the Thraco-Romans. Some argue that they are descended from Romanized Illyrians. Most of the Vlachs and some scholars from Greece say that the ethnic group originated from ethnic Greeks who adopted their language from the Romans.
While under the Ottomans, the Vlachs were considered Greeks since they were Orthodox Christians. At the time, the Greek language was the lingua franca of the Balkans, especially regarding education and trade. With the growing economic conditions at the time, more Vlachs settled in villages and towns and gave up the pastoral lifestyle.
The Vlachs’ political stance was always pro-Greek. During the Ottoman Empire, they supported Greek political causes and were recognized as playing integral roles in the Greek War of Independence. In the early 19th century, the group split into two factions after the Greek state was formed. One section closely identified with Romania, while the other identified with Greece. The factions later died out, and the group identified as Greeks, an identity they upheld.
They speak Aromanian or “Vlachika”, a language with roots in Latin but which loans from other languages, including Greek, Turkish, and other Slavic languages. As it stands, Aromanian is now a dying language, especially since it doesn’t have a standardized alphabet and isn’t spoken by many of the younger generations of Vlachs. The situation is made even more complex because there are about 250,000 surviving Vlachs. Most of their culture, like the language, is also slowly dying out, a consequence of modern-day influence. About 300 interested groups are dedicated to preserving the Vlach culture, traditions, and the Aromanian language.
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