Ethnokitsch And The Roman Legions

One example of the perfect circularity of ethnokitsch is Romanian forenames. Visitors find that most of the people they meet are named after Roman emperors and poets, for example Tiberiu and Ovidiu, and draw the conclusion that the Romanians are direct descendants of the Romans. The locals will not hasten to contradict them. In reality, a couple of hundred years ago most Romanians were named after the common stock of Eastern Christian saints (Ion, Stefan and so on), or bore local names that were neither Christian nor Classical Roman (e.g. Mircea). The imperial Roman names were part of the nineteenth-century nation-building project, revived under Ceauşescu, involving an ethnogenesis that is unprovable, probably unknowable, and bitterly disputed by the Hungarians. In other words, so many modern Romanians are called Adrian and Adriana not because they are descended from the legions but because nationalists wanted them to think that they were.

Moreover, their interpretation of Romanity begins and ends with Trajan’s conquest of Dacia, and most Romanians are blissfully unaware that in the Middle Ages the term “Romania” denoted, not the lands across the Danube but the Byzantine Empire in general and Anatolia in particular; Romans was what the Greeks then called themselves, and the ancient self-designation of the Vlach mountaineers of the Transylvanian Alps was more probably related to some Byzantine allegiance than to a folk memory of the legions of the second century.

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