The Rumanian peasant looks upon himself as the descendant of the patricians of Rome
The plains of Wallachia were defended formerly by an ancient line of fortifications passing to the north of these Danubian lakes and lagoons, and known as "Trajan's Wall," like the ditches, walls, and entrenched camps in the Southern Dobruja. The inhabitants ascribe their construction to Caesar, although they are of much later date, having been erected by Trajan as a protection against the Visigoths. This ancient barrier of defence coincided pretty nearly with the political boundary between Russian and Rumanian Bessarabia, and extended probably to the west of the Pruth, across the whole of Moldavia and Wallachia. Vestiges of it still met with there are known as the "Road of the Avares." A second wall, still traceable between Leova and Bender, defended the approaches to the valley of the Danube.
In spite of the diverse races which have overrun, conquered, or devastated their territory, the inhabitants of Rumania, more fortunate than their neighbours, have preserved their unity of race and language. Wallachians and Moldavians form one people, and not only have they kept intact their national territory, but they have actually encroached upon the territories of their neighbours. Throughout Rumania, with the exception of the Dobruja, handed over to Rumania by the treaty recently concluded at Berlin, the inhabitants belonging to alien races are in the minority.
The origin of this Latin-speaking nation is still shrouded in mystery. Are they the descendants of Getae and Latinised Dacians, or does the blood of Italian colonists brought thither by Trajan, of legionaries and Roman soldiers, predominate amongst them? To what extent have they become amalgamated with their neighbours, the Slavs and Illyrians? What share had the Celts in the formation of their nationality? Are the "Little" Wallachians, the "men with the eighty teeth,"—so called on account of their bravery,—the descendants of Celts? We cannot say with certainty, for men of learning like Shafarik and Miklosich differ on all these points. The vast plains at present inhabited by the Rumanians became a wilderness in the third century, when the Emperor Aurelian compelled their inhabitants to migrate to the right bank of the Danube. If it is true that the descendants of these emigrants ever returned to the seats of their ancestors, in the meantime occupied by Slavs, Magyars, and Pecheneges, when did they do so? Miklosich presumes that they did so towards the close of the fifth century; Roesler thinks in the fourteenth, although ancient chroniclers of the eleventh century mention Rumanians as dwelling in the Carpathians. Other authorities deny that there was any re-immigration; they maintain that the residue of the Latinised population sufficed for reconstituting the nationality. Thus much is certain, that this small people has increased wonderfully, and has become now the preponderating race on the Lower Danube and in Transylvania.
Even in the seventeenth century the language spoken by the Rumanians was treated as a rural dialect, and Slavonian was used in churches and courts of justice. At the present day, on the contrary, Rumanian patriots are anxious to purge their language of all Servian words, and of Greek and Turkish expressions introduced during the dominion of the Osmanli. The "Romans" of the Danube are endeavouring to polish their tongue, so that it may rank with Italian and French. They have abandoned the Russian characters, and their vocabulary is being continually enriched by new words derived from the Latin. The idiom spoken in the towns, which was the most impure formerly, in consequence of the influx of strangers, has now become more Latin than that spoken in the country. There are, however, about two hundred words not traceable to any known tongue, and these are supposed to be a remnant of the ancient Dacian spoken at the period of the Roman invasion. The Wallachian differs, moreover, from the Latin tongues of Western Europe by always placing the article and the demonstrative pronoun after the noun. The same rule obtains in Albanian and Bulgarian, and Miklosich is probably right when he looks upon this as a feature of the ancient language of the aborigines.
These niceties, however, are altogether unnoticed by the mass of the people. The Rumanian peasant is proud of the ancient conquerors of his country, and looks upon himself as the descendant of the patricians of Rome. Several of his customs, at the birth of children, betrothals, or burials, recall those observed by the Romans, and the dance of the Calushares, it is said, may be traced back to the earliest Italian settlers. The Wallachian is fond of talking about Father Trajan, to whom he attributes all those feats which in other countries are associated with Hercules, Fingal, or Ossian. Many a mountain valley has been rent asunder by Trajan's powerful hand; and the avalanches descending from the hills are spoken of as Trajan's thunder. The Rumanian completely ignores Getae, Dacians, or Goths, though in the hills we still meet with tall men having blue eyes and long flaxen hair, who are probably descended from the aboriginal inhabitants of the country.