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Proto-Romanian Language

Proto-Romanian (also known as "Common Romanian", româna comună or "Ancient Romanian", străromâna, Balkan Latin) is a hypothetical and unattested Romance language evolved from Vulgar Latin and considered to have been spoken by the ancestors of today's Romanians and related Balkan Latin peoples (Vlachs) before c. 900 (7th–11th century AD). In the 9th century Proto-Romanian already had a structure very distinct from the other Romance languages, with major differences in grammar, morphology and phonology and already was a member of the Balkan language area. Most of its features can be found in the modern Balkan Romance languages. It already contained around a hundred loans from Slavic languages, including words such as trup (body, flesh), as well as some Greek language loans via Vulgar Latin, but no Hungarian and Turkish words as these nations had yet to arrive in the region. According to the Romanian theory, it evolved into the following modern languages and their dialects: The first language that broke the unity was Aromanian, in the 9th century, followed shortly after by Megleno-Romanian. Istro-Romanian was the last to break the link with Daco-Romanian in the 11th century. The place where Proto-Romanian formed is still under debate; most historians put it just to the north of the Jireček Line. See: Origin of Romanians. The Roman occupation led to a Roman-Thracian syncretism, and similar to the case of other conquered civilisation (see Gallo-Roman culture developed in Roman Gaul), had as final result the Latinization of many Thracian tribes which were on the edge of the sphere of Latin influence, eventually resulting in the possible extinction of the Daco-Thracian language (unless, of course, Albanian is its descendant), but traces of it are still preserved in the Eastern Romance substratum. From the 2nd century AD, the Latin spoken in the Danubian provinces starts to display its own distinctive features, separate from the rest of the Romance languages, including those of western Balkans (Dalmatian). The Thraco-Roman period of the Romanian language is usually delimited between the 2nd century (or earlier via cultural influence and economic ties) and the 6th or the 7th century. It is divided, in turn, into two periods, with the division falling roughly in the 3rd to 4th century. The Romanian Academy considers the 5th century as the latest time that the differences between Balkan Latin and western Latin could have appeared, and that between the 5th and 8th centuries, the new language, Romanian, switched from Latin speech, to a vernacular Romance idiom, called Română comună.

civilisation cultural influence latinization

1. First Sample of Romanian Text

Map showing the area where Dacian was spoken. The blue area shows the Dacian lands conquered by the Roman Empire. The red area was inhabited by Free Dacian tribes and others.
The Jireček line since Konstantin Jireček.
Map of Balkans with regions inhabited by Romanians/Vlachs highlighted.
The evolution of the Eastern Romance languages through the ages.
The Romanian ethnogenesis.

Referring to this time period, of great debate and interest is the so-called "Torna, Torna Fratre" episode. In Theophylactus Simocatta Histories, (c. 630), the author mentions the words "τóρνα, τóρνα". The context of this mention is a Byzantine expedition during Maurice's Balkan campaigns in 587, led by general Comentiolus, in the Haemus, against the Avars. The success of the campaign was compromised by an incident: during a night march:

a beast of burden had shucked off his load. It happened as his master was marching in front of him. But the ones who were coming from behind and saw the animal dragging his burden after him, had shouted to the master to turn around and straighten the burden. Well, this event was the reason for a great agitation in the army, and started a flight to the rear, because the shout was known to the crowd: the same words were also a signal, and it seemed to mean “run”, as if the enemies had appeared nearby more rapidly than could be imagined. There was a great turmoil in the host, and a lot of noise; all were shouting loudly and goading each other to turn back, calling with great unrest in the language of the country “torna, torna”, as a battle had suddenly started in the middle of the night.[1]

Nearly two centuries after Theophylactus, the same episode is retold by another Byzantine chronicler, Theophanes Confessor, in his Chronographia (c. 810–814). He mentions the words "τόρνα, τόρνα, φράτρε" [torna, torna fratre; "turn, turn brother"]:

A beast of burden had thrown off his load, and somebody yelled to his master to reset it, saying in the language of their parents/of the land: “torna, torna, fratre”. The master of the animal didn't hear the shout, but the people heard him, and believing that they are attacked by the enemy, started running, shouting loudly: “torna, torna”.[2]

The first to identify the excerpts as examples of early Romanian was Johann Thunmann in 1774.[3] Since then, a debate among scholars had been going on to identify whether the language in question is a sample of early Romanian,[4] or just a Byzantine command[5] (of Latin origin, as it appears as such–torna–in Emperors Mauricius Strategikon), and with “fratre” used as a colloquial form of address between the Byzantine soldiers.[6] The main debate revolved around the expressions ἐπιχώριoς γλῶσσα (epichorios glossa – Theopylactus) and πάτριoς φωνή (pátrios foní – Theophanes), and what they actually meant.

An important contribution to the debate was Nicolae Iorga's first noticing in 1905 of the duality of the term torna in Theophylactus text: the shouting to get the attention of the master of the animal (in the language of the country), and the misunderstanding of this by the bulk of the army as a military command (due to the resemblance with the Latin military command).[7] Iorga considers the army to have been composed of both auxiliary (τολδον) Romanised Thracians—speaking ἐπιχωρίᾳ τε γλώττῃ (the “language of the country”/“language of their parents/of the natives”) —and of Byzantines (a mélange of ethnicities using Byzantine words of Latin origin as official command terms, as attested in the Strategikon).[8]

This view was later supported by the Greek historian A. Keramopoulos (1939),[9] as well as by Alexandru Philippide (1925), who considered that the word torna should not be understood as a solely military command term, because it was, as supported by chronicles, a word “of the country”,[10] as by the year 600, the bulk of the Byzantine army was raised from barbarian mercenaries and the Romanic population of the Balkan Peninsula.[11]

Starting from the second half of the 20th century, many Romanian scholars consider it a sample of early Romanian language, a view with supporters such as Al. Rosetti (1960),[12] Petre Ș. Năsturel (1956)[13] and I. Glodariu (1964).[14]

In regards to the Latin term 'torna' (an imperative form of the verb torno), in modern Romanian, the corresponding or descendant term 'toarnă' now means "pour" (a conjugated form of the verb 'turna' – "to pour"[15]). However, in older or early Romanian, the verb also had the sense of "to return or come back", and this sense is also still preserved in the modern Aromanian verb 'tornu'.[16][17]


  1. Theophylacti Simocattae Historiae, II, 15, 6–9, ed. De Boor, Leipzig, 1887; cf. FHDR 1970
  2. Theophanis Chronographia, I, Anno 6079 (587), 14–19, ed. De Boor, Leipzig, 1883; cf. FHDR 1970: 604.
  3. Johann Thunmann: “Untersuchungen über die Geschichte der östlichen europäischen Völker” ("Investigations into the histories of eastern European peoples"), 1. Theil, Leipzig, 1774, p. 169–366.: "Gegen das Ende des sechsten Jahrhunderts sprach man schon in Thracien Wlachisch" ("Towards the end of the sixth century, someone already spoke in Tracian Vlachish")
  4. This view, which suggested that the expression should be taken as such: the language of the country and the language of their fathers/of the natives, thus being a sample of Romanian was supported by historians and philologists such as F. J. Sulzer in “Geschichte des transalpinischen Daciens” ("History of the Transalpine Dacians"), II, Vienna, 1781; G. Șincai in “Hronica românilor și a mai multor neamuri” ("Chronicle of the Romanians and of many more peoples", I, Iași, 1853; C.Tagliavini in ”Le origini delle lingue neolatine” ("The origins of the Neo-Latin languages"), Bologna, 1952; W. Tomaschek in “Über Brumalia und Rosalia” ("Of Brumalia and Rosalia", Sitzungsberichte der Wiener Akademie der Wissenschaften, LX, Viena, 1869; R. Roesler in “Romänische Studien” ("Romanian Studies"), Leipzig, 1871; Al. Rosetti in “Istoria limbii române” ("History of the Romanian Language", Bucharest, 1986; D. Russo in “Elenismul în România” ("Hellenism in Romania"), Bucharest, 1912.; B. P. Hasdeu in “Strat și substrat. Genealogia popoarelor balcanice” ("Stratum and Substratum: Genealogy of the Balkan Peoples"), Analele Academiei Române, Memoriile secțiunii literare, XIV, Bucharest, 1892; A. D. Xenopol in “Une énigme historique. Les Roumains au Moyen Âge” ("An historic enigma: the Romanians of the Middle Ages"), Paris, 1885 and “Istoria românilor” ("History of the Romanians"), I, Iași, 1888; H. Zilliacus in “Zum Kampf der Weltsprachen im oströmischen Reich” ("To the struggle of world languages in the Eastern Roman Empire"), Helsinki, 1935; R. Vulpe in “Histoire ancienne de la Dobroudja” ("Ancient history of Dobrugea"), Bucharest, 1938; C. Popa-Lisseanu in “Limba română în izvoarele istorice medievale” ("The Romanian language in the sources of medieval history"), Analele Academiei Române. Memoriile secțiunii literare, 3rd series, IX, 1940. Lot 1946; G. I. Brătianu in “Une énigme et un miracle historique: le peuple roumain” ("An enigma and an historic miracle: the Romanian people"), Bucharest, 1942; etc.
  5. This view had proponents such as J. L. Pić in “Über die Abstammung den Rumänen” ("On the descent of the Romanians"), Leipzig, 1880; J. Jung in “Die romanischen Landschaften des römischen Reiches” ("Romanian landscapes of the Roman Empire") , Innsbruck, 1881; A. Budinszky in “Die Ausbreitung der lateinischen Sprache über Italien und Provinzen des Römischen Reiches” ("The propagation of the Latin language in Italy and the provinces of the Roman Empire"), Berlin, 1881; D. Onciul: “Teoria lui Roesler” ("Rosler's Theory") in “Convorbiri literare”, XIX, Bucharest, 1885; C. Jireček in “Geschichte der Bulgaren” ("History of the Bulgarians"), Prague, 1876; Ovide Densusianu: “Histoire de la langue roumaine” ("History of the Romanian language"), I, Paris, 1901; P. Mutafčief: “Bulgares et Roumains dans l'histoire des pays danubiens” ("Bulgarians and Romanians in the history of the Danubian lands"), Sofia, 1932; F. Lot: “La langue de commandement dans les armées romaines et le cri de guerre français au Moyen Âge” ("The language of command in the Romanian armies and the French war cry in the Middle Ages") in volume “Mémoires dédiés à la mémoire de Félix Grat” ("Memoirs dedicated to the memory of Félix Grat"), I, Paris, 1946;
  6. Idea supported by Franz Dölger in “Die „Familie” der Könige im Mittelalter” ("The 'family' of the king in the Middle Ages"), „Historisches Jahrbuch” ("Historical Yearbook"), 1940, p. 397–420; and M. Gyóni in “Az állitólagos legrégibb román nyelvemlék (= "Das angeblich älteste rumänische Sprachdenkmal", "The allegedly oldest spoken evidence of the Romanian language")”, „Egyetemes Philologiai Közlöny (Archivum Philologicum)”, LXVI, 1942, p. 1–11
  7. Nicolae Iorga, Istoria românilor ("History of the Romanians"), II, Bucharest, 1936, p. 249.
  8. “Într-o regiune foarte aproape de Haemus, unde se găsesc nume romanice precum Kalvumuntis (calvos montes), unul dintre soldații retrași din cel mai apropiat ținut primejduit strigă «în limba locului» (ἐπιχωρίᾳ τε γλώττῃ) unui camarad care-și pierduse bagajul «retorna» sau «torna, fratre»; datorită asemănării cu unul din termenii latinești obișnuiți de comandă, strigătul e înțeles greșit și oastea, de teama unui dușman ivit pe neașteptate, se risipește prin văi”. ("In a region very close to Haemus, where one finds Romanic names such as Kalvumuntis (calvos montes), one of the soldiers retreated from the nearest endangered land shouts 'in the local language' (ἐπιχωρίᾳ τε γλώττῃ) to a comrade who had lost his baggage retorna or torna, fratre ("turn back" or "turn, brother"); given the similarity to one of the customary Latin terms of command, the shout is understood heavily (?) and the host, fearing that an enemy had unexpectedly appeared, disperses through the haze." Nicolae Iorga, Istoria românilor ("History of the Romanians"), II, Bucharest, 1936.
  9. A. Keramopoullos (A. Κεραµóπουλλου): “Τ ε ναι ο Kουτσóβλαχ” ("Who are the Aromanians"), Athens, 1939: “moreover, the term fratre, betraying the familiarity of the comrades, dismissed the possibility of a military term”
  10. Al. Philippide, Originea românilor ("Origin of the Romanians"), I, Iași, 1925: „Armata, dacă a înțeles rău cuvântul torna, ca și cum ar fi fost vorba că trebuie să se întoarcă cineva să fugă, l-a înțeles ca un cuvânt din limba țării, din limba locului, căci doar Theophylactos spune lămurit că «toți strigau cât îi ținea gura și se îndemnau unul pe altul să se întoarcă, răcnind cu mare tulburare în limba țării: retorna»” ("The army, if it understood badly the word torna, which also could have been the word that turned back someone who ran away, understood it as a word of the language of the country, of the language of the place, because only Theophylactos says clearly that 'everyone shouted it from mouth to mouth the gave one another the impetus to turn around, yelling with great concern in the language of the country: turn back'")
  11. „Dar se pare că Jireček n-a cetit pagina întreagă a descripției din Theophylactos și Theophanes. Acolo se vede lămurit că n-avem a face cu un termin de comandă, căci un soldat s-a adresat unui camarad al său cu vorbele retorna ori torna, torna, fratre, pentru a-l face atent asupra faptului că s-a deranjat sarcina de pe spatele unui animal” ("But it seems that Jireček hadn't read the whole page of description by Theophylactos and Theophanes." There one sees clearly that they it wasn't made as a term of command, because a soldier addressed a comrade of his with the words "turn back" or "turn, turn, brother" to draw his attention to the fact that the burden was disturbed on the back of an animal") […] “Grosul armatelor bizantine era format din barbari mercenari și din populația romanică a Peninsulei Balcanice” ("The bulk of the Byzantine army was formed of mercenary barbarians and of the Romanic population of the Balkan Peninsula") […] „armata despre care se vorbește în aceste pasaje [din Theophylactus și Theophanes] opera în părțile de răsărit ale muntelui Haemus pe teritoriu thrac romanizat” ("The army about which they are speaking in these passages [of Theophylactus and Theophanes] was raised in part in the Haemus mountains in the Romanized Thracian territory.")[…] „Ca să ne rezumăm părerea, cuvântul spus catârgiului era un termen viu, din graiul însoțitorilor lui, sunând aproape la fel cu cuvântul torna din terminologia de comandă a armatei bizantine” ("To sum up the opinion, the word spoken catârgiului (? – word somehow related to catâr = "mule") was a live term, from the dialect [here and below, we render grai as "dialect"; the term falls between "accent" and "dialect" – ed.] of their guide, being almost the same as the word torna from the terminology of command of the Byzantine army.") „nimic nu este mai natural decât a conchide, cum au făcut toți înainte de Jireček, că vorbele torna, retorna, fratre sunt cuvinte românești din veacul al șaselea” ("Nothing is more natural than to conclude, as did everyone since Jireček, that the words torna, retorna, fratre are Romanian words from the 6th century.") […] „Preciziunea povestirii lui Teofilact nu a fost până acum luată în seamă așa cum trebuie. Totuși reiese clar din aceste rânduri: 1) că cuvântul întrebuințat de însoțitorii stăpânului catârului nu era chiar același cu cuvântul pe care oștenii și-au închipuit că-l aud și 2) că, pe când în gura tovarășilor lui cuvântul însemna doar «întoarce-te», ε ς τo πίσω τραπέσθαι, așa cum susțin cu bună dreptate mai toți cercetătorii români, în schimb cuvântul așa cum l-au înțeles ostașii însemna «înapoi, la stânga împrejur», precum și-au dat seama tot cu bună dreptate Jireček și alți învățați, fiind, prin urmare, după chiar mărturia Strategikon-ului așa-zis al împăratului Mauriciu, un cuvânt din graiul oștirilor bizantine” ("The precision of Theophylactus' story has still not been given the account it deserves. Everything follows clearly from these lines: 1) that the word employed the guides of the master of the mules was not even the same as the word the soldiers thought they heard and 2) that, although in the mouth of their comrade the word meant merely "turn around, ε ς τo πίσω τραπέσθαι, just as all the Romanian researchers still sustain, instead the word as understood by the soldiers meant "turn back, left about!", according to what Jireček and other scholars have correctly understood, being, through its consequences, after even the witness of the Strategikon so in this manner by the emperor Maurice, a word in the dialect of the Byzantine army.")
  12. Al. Rosetti, “Despre torna, torna, fratre” ("About torna, torna, fratre"), Bucharest, 1960, p. 467–468.: „Așadar, termenii de mai sus aparțineau limbii populației romanizate, adică limbii române în devenire, după cum au susținut mai demult unii cercetători și, printre ei, A. Philippide, care a dat traducerea românească a pasajelor respective, însoțită de un comentariu convingător. Termenii coincid cu termenii omonimi sau foarte apropiați din limba latină, și de aceea ei au provocat panică în împrejurarea amintită.” ("Thus, the terms from above belong to the language of the romanized population, that is, the Romanian language in the process of development, as has long been sustained by some scholars and, among them, A. Philippide, who gave the Romanian translation to the respective passages, guided by a convincing commentary. The terms coincide with homonymic terms or very close from the Latin language, and from that caused panic in those nearby who heard it.")
  13. Petre Ș. Năsturel, “Quelques mots de plus à propos de «torna, torna» de Théophylacte et de «torna, torna, fratre» de Théophane” ("Those words more appropriate than Theophylactus' torna, torna and Theophanus' torna, torna, fratre"), in Byzantinobulgarica, II, Sofia, 1966: Petre Ș. Năsturel “Torna, torna, fratre. O problemă de istorie și de lingvistică” ("Torna, torna, fratre: a problem in the history of linguistics") in Studii de cercetări și istorie veche, VII, Bucharest, 1956: “era un cuvânt viu din graiul populației romanice răsăritene și poate fi socotit ca cea mai veche urmă de limbă străromână; la fel ca și φράτρε ['fratre']. Dar tot atunci se păstra în armata bizantină același cuvânt cu înțelesul de «înapoi», «stânga împrejur», ceea ce a amăgit pe oștenii lui Comentiolus, punându-i pe fugă” ("was a live word in the Eastern Romanic population and could have been reckoned as the oldest utterance of the Old Romanian language; the same also for φράτρε ['fratre']. But still, the Byzantine army retained this word with the sense of "turn back", "left about", as had deluded the soldiers of Comentiolus, putting them to flight") […] “făceau parte din așa-zisul το⋅λδον, care cuprindea samarele, slugile și vitele de povară. Măcar ei erau băștinași, în sensul larg al cuvântului [...]; ei făceau parte din latinitatea răsăriteană din veacul al VI-lea” ("made up part of the so-called το⋅λδον ['the auxiliary troops'], which includes pack-saddles, servants and draft cattle. Even those were natives, in the broad sense of the word [...]; they formed part of the Eastern Latinity of the 6th century") […] “Reieșe din aceasta în chip limpede și cu totul neîndoielnic că cel puțin pentru catârgiu și pentru tovarășii lui vorba torna era un cuvânt din graiul lor – la fel cu siguranță și φράτρε – pe când la urechile și în gura oștenilor apărea, cum dovedește Strategikon-ul, ca un cuvânt ostășesc de poruncă. [...]. Cu alte cuvinte, chiar dacă oastea nu a fost alcătuită din băștinași, se aflau împreună cu ea oameni care vorbeau o limbă romanică” ("The result of this clearly and without the least doubt, is that for the muleteer and for his comrades, the word torna was a word in their own dialect – as certainly was φράτρε ['fratre'] – which when it appeared in the ears and mouths of the soldiers, as the Strategikon proves, was a soldiers word of command. [...]. In other words, even if the army had not been made up of natives, it would turn out that those men spoke a Romanic language") […]„torna era un cuvânt din graiul lor” ("torna was a word of their dialect".)
  14. I. Glodariu: “În legatura cu «torna, torna, fratre»” in „Acta Musei Napocensis”, I, Cluj, 1964: „din oameni care transportau bagajele armatei, rechiziționați cu acest scop și, în sens[ul] larg al cuvântului, erau localnici” ("among the men who transported the army's baggage, requisitioned with such a scope and, in the broad sense of the word, they were locals") […] „torna era un cuvânt din graiul viu al populației băștinașe” ("torna was a word in the live dialect of the local population") […] “e cert că cei din jur l-au interpretat ca «întoarce-te», dacă nu erau soldați (și termenul folosit de Theophanes ne face să credem că nu erau), sau ca «stânga-mprejur», dacă erau ostași” ("It is certain the those nearby interpreted it as "turn around", if they weren't soldiers (and the term used by Theophanes does not make us believe they were), or as "left about!", if they were soldiers")[…] „exista o verigă sigură între lat. frater și rom. frate” ("there is a sure link between Latin frater and Romanian frate").
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