Morlachs (Croatian and Serbian: Morlaci, Serbian Cyrillic: Морлаци) was an exonym used for a rural community in the Lika and Dalmatian hinterlands. The term itself was initially used for a Vlach pastoralist community in the mountains of Croatia and the Republic of Venice in the second half of the 14th until early 16th century. Later, when was straddled the Venetian–Ottoman border in the 17th century, for a community consisting of Slavic-speaking, mainly Eastern Orthodox, and to a lesser degree Roman Catholic people. The exonym lost its use by the end of the 18th century, and came to be viewed of as derogatory. With the nation-building in the 19th century, the population of the Dalmatian hinterlands espoused either a Serb or Croat ethnicity.
The word Morlach is derived from Italian: Morlacco, Latin: Morlachus, Murlachus, being cognate to Greek: Μαυροβλάχοι (Mauroblakhoi), meaning "Black Vlachs" (from Greek mauro, "dark, black"). The Serbo-Croatian term in singular is Morlak and plural Morlaci [mor-latsi]. In some 16th-century redactions of the Doclean Chronicle, they are referred to as "Morlachs or Nigri Latini" (Black Latins). Petar Skok derived it from Latin maurus and Greek maurós ("dark"), which diphthongs au and av indicate a Dalmato-Romanian lexical remnant.
There are several interpretations of the ethnonym and phrase "moro/mavro/mauro vlasi". The direct translation of the name Morovlasi in Serbo-Croatian would mean Black Vlachs. It is considered that Black was referred to their clothes of brown cloth; The 17th-century historian from Dalmatia Johannes Lucius, gave the thesis it actually meant "Black Latins" compared to "White Romans" in coastal areas; The 18th-century writer Alberto Fortis in his book Travels in Dalmatia (1774), where extensively wrote about Morlachs, thought it came from Slavic language word "more" (sea), and morski Vlasi meaning "Sea Vlachs"; The same century writer Ivan Lovrić observing Fortis work thought it comes from "more" (sea) and "(v)lac(s)i" (strong) ("strongmen by the sea"), and mentioned how the Greeks called Upper Vlachia Maurovlachia thus Morlachs brought the name with them; There's an similar interpretation as "Northern Latins" (Cicerone Poghirc), deriving from the Turkish (Old-Indo European) practice of indicating cardinal directions by colors; As reference to their camps and pastures which were built in "dark" places; It comes from Morea peninsula; from Morava river; or from African Maurs.
Origin and culture
The etymology of the exonym points to a connection with Vlachs, but as stated in work Travels in Dalmatia from 18th century by Fortis, at that time they were Slavic-speaking, and due to migrations from various parts of the Balkans, the name passed to other communities. The Morlach people were both of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic faith.
Fortis spotted the physical difference between Morlachs; those from around Kotor, Sinj and Knin generally were blond haired, with blue eyes, and broad face, while those around Zadvarje and Vrgorac generally brown haired and with narrow face. They also differed in nature. Although by the urban strangers were often seen as "those people" from periphery, Provveditore Zorzi Grimani in 1730 described them by nature "ferocious, but not indomitable" and Edward Gibbon called them "barbarians", Fortis praised their "noble savagery", moral, family, and friendship virtues, but also complaint their persistent keeping to the old tradition. He found that they sang melancholic verses of epic poetry related to the Ottoman occupation, accompanied with the traditional single stringed instrument called gusle. During his travels, he discovered what he believed to be a "Morlachian ballad", Hasanaginica.
They made their living as shepherds and merchants, as well soldiers. They neglected agricultural work, usually didn't had gardens and orchards besides those growing naturally, and had for the time old farming tools, explaining it, as Lovrić quote, "what our ancestors did not work, neither will we". Morlach families had herds from 200 to 600 units, while the poorer families around 40 to 50 animals, from which they received milk and made various dairy products from it. Until today, in some mountainous regions of Dalmatian Zagora, Bukovica, Velebit, and Ćićarija was preserved the "Vlachian" or "Romanian" traditonal system of counting sheep in pairs do (two), pato (four), šasto (six), šopći (eight), zeći (ten).
Contemporary I. Lovrić, said that the Morlachs were Slavs who spoke better Slavic language than the Ragusians (owing to the growing Italianization of the Dalmatian coast). Boško Desnica (1886–1945), after analysing Venetian papers, concluded Venetians undifferentiated the Slavic people in Dalmatia, and the script and language of the region was labeled as "Illirico" or "Servian". Lovrić made no distinction between the Vlachs/Morlachs and the Dalmatians and Montenegrins and considered all them Slavs, and was not at all bothered by the fact that the Morlachs were predominantly Orthodox Christian.
The first mention of the term Morlachs is simultaneous with the appearance of Vlachs in the documents of Croatia in the early 14th century; in 1321, a local priest on the island of Krk granted land to the church ("to the lands of Kneže, which are called Vlachian"), while in 1322 they were allied to Mladen Šubić at the battle in the hinterland of Trogir.
In the documents from the time cannot be seen the existence of difference between the terms Vlach and Morlach. The term first mention is from 1344, when are mentioned Morolacorum in lands around Knin and Krbava, within the conflict of counts from Kurjaković and Nelipić families. In 1352, in the agreement in which Zadar sold salt to the Republic of Venice, in which Zadar retained part of the salt that Morlachi and others exported by land. In 1362, the Morlachorum, unauthorized, settled on lands of Trogir and used it for pasture for a few months. In the Statute of Senj dating to 1388, the Frankopans mentioned Morowlachi and defined the amount of time they had for pasture when they descended from the mountains. In 1412, the Murlachos captured the Ostrovica Fortress from Venice. In August 1417, Venetian authorities were concerned with the "Morlachs and other Slavs" from the hinterland, that were a threat to security in Šibenik.
Early Vlachs probably lived on Croatian territory even before 14th century, being the progeny of romanized Illyrians and pre-Slavic Romance-speaking people. During the 14th century, Morlach settlements already existed throughout much of today's Croatia, from the northern island Krk, around the Velebit and Dinara mountains, and along the southern rivers Krka and Cetina. Those Vlachs, had by the end of the 14th and 15th century lost, if they ever spoke, their Romance language, or were at least bilingual.[nb 1] As they adopted Slavic language, the only characteristic "Vlach" element was pastoral way of life.[nb 2] The so-called Istro-Romanians continued to speak their language on the island of Krk and villages around the Čepić lake in Istria, while other communities in the mountains above the lake preserved the Shtokavian-Chakavian dialect of ikavian accent from the southern Velebit and area of Zadar.
They, and other Morlachs (Vlachs), had settled Istria (and mountain Ćićarija) after the various devastating outbreaks of the plague and war between 1400 and 1600, and reached the island of Krk. In 1465 and 1468, on Krk and costal settlement Crikvenica were mentioned judge Gregor Bodulić and peasant Mikul. The Venice colonization of Istria (and Ćićarija) occurred not later then early 1520s, and there were several cases when they returned to Dalmatia.
As many former inhabitants of the Croatian-Ottoman borderland fled northwards or were captured by the Ottoman invaders, they left unpopulated areas. The Austrian Empire established the Military Frontiers in 1522, which served as a buffer against Ottoman incursions. At the time, "Vlachs",[nb 3] served both in the conquesting Ottoman armies, and Austria and Venice, and were settled by both sides.
In 1579, several groups of Morlachs, understood as Serb tribes in Dalmatia,[verification needed] imigrated and requested to be employed as military colonists. Initially, there were some tensions between these and the established Uskoks. In 1593, provveditore generale Cristoforo Valier mentioned three nations constituting the Uskoks, the "natives of Senj, Croatians, and Morlachs from the Turkish parts".
The name "Morlach" expanded also to geographical terms, the mountain Velebit was called Montagne della Morlacca (Morlach Mountain), lands below Morlachia, and Velebits canal the Canale della Morlacca.
From the 16th-century onwards, the historical term changes meaning, as in most Venetian documents, Morlachs are usually called immigrants, both Orthodox and Catholic, from conquered territory in the Western Balkans by the Ottoman Empire. These settled in the Venetian-Ottoman border, in the hinterlands of coastal cities, and entered Venetian military service, in the early 17th century.
At the time of the Cretan War (1645–69) and Morean War (1684-99), a large number of Morlachs settled inland of the Dalmatian towns, and Ravni Kotari of Zadar. They were skilled in warfare and familiar with local territory, and served as paid soldiers in both Venetian and Ottoman armies. Their activity was simultaneous with those of Uskoks. Their military service granted them lands, and freed them from usual trials, and gave them rights which freed from full debt law (only 1/10 yield), thus many joined the so-called "Morlach" or "Vlach" armies. At the time, some notable military leaders of Morlachs,[nb 4] who were also sung in epic poetry, are Janko Mitrović, Ilija and Stojan Janković, Petar, Ilija and Franjo Smiljanić, Stjepan and Marko Sorić, Vuk Mandušić, Ilija Peraica, Šimun Bortulačić, Božo Milković, Stanislav Sočivica, and counts Franjo and Juraj Posedarski. As Morlachs were of both Orthodox and Catholic faith, roughly, the Mitrović-Janković family were the leaders of Orthodox Morlachs, while the Smiljanić family were leaders of Catholic Morlachs.
After the dissolution of Republic of Venice in 1797, and loss of power in Dalmatia, the term Morlach would steadily disappear from use. Although in some historical documents were referred as a nation, it can't be told it was, or that the name belonged to only one ethnic group, i.e. Vlachs who didn't manage to make a national identity, or later Croatian or Serbian, yet according to the religious affiliation, they assimilated to these two ethnic groups.
During the time of Enlightement and Romanticism, Morlachs were seen as the "model of primitve Slavdom", the "spirits of pastoral Arcadia Morlacchia. They attracted attention of travel writers like 17th-century Jacob Spon and Sir George Wheler, or 18th-century writers Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe when culturally labeled their poems as "Morlackisch". In 1793 at the carnival in Venice was performed a play about Morlacchi, Gli Antichi Slavi, in 1802 reconceived as a ballet Le Nozze dei Morlacchi. At the beginning of the 19th century, still seen as relics from primitive past and a byword for barbarous people, went to inspire science fiction novelist H. G. Wells, while women embroidered leggings reminded Thomas Graham Jackson the appearance of American Indian squaws. In the 20th century, Alice Moque, as many other women travelers, in her 1914 travelogue Delightful Dalmatia emphasized the picturesqueness of the sight of Morlach women and men in their folk costumes, which "made Zara's Plazza look like a stage setting", and regretted the coming of new civilization.
The term became derogatory, indicating people from the mountains – backward people, and was disliked by the Morlachs (Croats and Serbs). There are have been no individuals declaring as Morlachs in the Croatian censuses.
- The linguistic assimilation didn't entirely erased Romanian words, the evidence are toponims, and anthroponyms (personal names) with specific Romanian or Slavic words roots and surname ending suffixes "-ul", "-ol", "-or", "-at", "-ar", "-as", "-an", "-man", "-er", "-et", "-ez", after Slavicization often accompanied with ending suffixes "-ić", "-vić", "-ović".
- That the pastoral way of life was specific for Vlachs is seen in the third chapter of eight book in Alexiad, 12th-century work by Anna Komnene, where along Bulgars are mentioned tribes who live a nomadic life usually called Vlachs. In this and many other older Medieval documents, the term was often mentioned along other ethnic names, thus being more an ethnic than just a social-professional category. Although the term included both of them, P. S. Nasturel emphasized there existed other general expressions for pastors.
- "Vlachs", referring to pastoralists, since 16th century was a common name for Serbs in the Ottoman Empire and later. Tihomir Đorđević points to the already known fact that the name 'Vlach' didn't only refer to genuine Vlachs or Serbs but also to cattle breeders in general. Serbian documents from the 12th to 14th century mention Vlachs separately from Serbs, for example the prohibition of intermarriage between Serbs and Vlachs by Emperor Dušan the Mighty. A letter of Emperor Ferdinand, sent on November 6, 1538, to Croatian ban Petar Keglević, in which he wrote "Captains and dukes of the Rasians, or the Serbs, or the Vlachs, who usually call themselves the Serbs". In the work About the Vlachs from 1806, Metropolitan Stevan Stratimirović states that Roman Catholics from Croatia and Slavonia scornfully used the name 'Vlach' for "the Slovenians (Slavs) and Serbs, who are of our, Eastern confession (Orthodoxy)", and that "the Turks in Bosnia and Serbia also call every Bosnian or Serbian Christian a Vlach" (T. Đorđević, 1984:110) However, the immigrants, irrelevant of religion, and especially of modern nationality which didn't exist until the 19th century, who took refuge in the Military Frontier and inland of coastal cities, were called "Vlachs" or "Morlachs".
- The head leaders in Venice, Ottoman and local Slavic documents were titled as capo, capo direttore, capo principale de Morlachi (J. Mitrović), governatnor delli Morlachi (S. Sorić), governator principale (I. Smiljanić), governator (Š. Bortulačić), gospodin serdar s vojvodami or lo dichiariamo serdar; serdar, and harambaša.
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- Mužić (Vjekoslav Klaić) 2010, p. 12: quedam particula gentis Morlachorum ipsius domini nostri regis... tentoria (tents), animalia seu pecudes (sheep)... ut ipsam particulam gentis Morlachorum de ipsorum territorio repellere… dignaremur (to be repelled from city territory)... quamplures Morlachos... usque ad festum S. Georgii martiris (was allowed to stay until April 24, 1362).
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- Mužić (Vjekoslav Klaić) 2010, p. 13: Cum rectores Jadre scripserint nostro dominio, quod castrum Ostrovich, quod emimusa Sandalo furatum et acceptum sit per certos Murlachos, quod non est sine infamia nostri dominii...
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Morlachs.|
- Croatian Encyclopaedia (2011). "Morlaci".