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Protochronism (anglicized from the Romanian: Protocronism, from the Ancient Greek terms for "first in time") is a Romanian term describing the tendency to ascribe, largely relying on questionable data and subjective interpretation, an idealized past to the country as a whole. While particularly prevalent during the regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu, its origin in Romanian scholarship dates back more than a century.
The term refers to perceived aggrandizing of Dacian and earlier roots of today's Romanians. This phenomenon is also pejoratively labelled "Dacomania" or "Dacopathy" or sometimes "Thracomania", while its proponents prefer "Dacology".
In this context, the term makes reference to the trend (noticed in several versions of Romanian nationalism) to ascribe a unique quality to the Dacians and their civilization. Protochronists attempt to prove either that Dacians had a major part to play in Ancient history, or even that they had the ascendancy over all cultures (with a particular accent on Ancient Rome, which, in a complete reversal of the founding myth, would have been created by Dacian migrants). Also noted are the exploitation of the Tărtăria tablets as certain proof that writing originated on proto-Dacian territory, and the belief that the Dacian language survived all the way to the Middle Ages.
An additional—but not universal—feature is the attempted connection between the supposed monotheism of the Zalmoxis cult and Christianity, in the belief that Dacians easily adopted and subsequently influenced the religion. Also, Christianity is argued to have been preached to the Daco-Romans by Saint Andrew, who is considered, doubtfully, as the clear origin of modern-day Romanian Orthodoxy. Despite the lack of evidence to support this, it is the official church stance, being found in history textbooks used in Romanian Orthodox seminaries and theology institutes.
The ideas have been explained as part of an inferiority complex present in Romanian nationalism, one which also manifested itself in works not connected with Protochronism, mainly as a rejection of the ideas that Romanian territories only served as a colony of Rome, voided of initiative, and subject to an influx of Latins which would have completely wiped out a Dacian presence.
Protochronism most likely came about with the views professed in the 1870s by Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu, one of the main points of the dispute between him and the conservative Junimea. For example, Hasdeu's Etymologicum magnum Romaniae not only claimed that Dacians gave Rome many of her Emperors (an idea supported in recent times by Iosif Constantin Drăgan), but also that the ruling dynasties of early medieval Wallachia and Moldavia were descendants of a caste of Dacians established with "King" (chieftain) Burebista. Other advocates of the idea before World War I included the amateur archaeologist Cezar Bolliac, as well as Teohari Antonescu and Nicolae Densuşianu. The latter composed an intricate and unsupported theory on Dacia as the center of European prehistory, authoring a complete parallel to Romanian official history, which included among the Dacians such diverse figures as those of the Asen dynasty, and Horea. The main volume of his writings is Dacia Preistorică ("Prehistoric Dacia").
After World War I and throughout Greater Romania's existence, the ideology increased its appeal. The Iron Guard flirted with the concept, making considerable parallels between its projects and interpretations of what would have been Zalmoxis' message. Mircea Eliade was notably preoccupied with Zalmoxis' cult, arguing in favor of its structural links with Christianity; his theory on Dacian history, viewing Romanization as a limited phenomenon, is celebrated by contemporary partisans of Protochronism.
In 1974 Edgar Papu published in the mainstream cultural monthly Secolul XX an essay titled "The Romanian Protochronism", arguing for Romanian chronological priority for some European achievements. The idea was promptly adopted by the nationalist Ceauşescu regime, which subsequently encouraged and amplified a cultural and historical discourse claiming the prevalence of autochthony over any foreign influence. Ceauşescu's ideologues developed a singular concept after the 1974 11th Congress of the Communist Party of Romania, when they attached Protochronism to official Marxism, arguing that the Dacians had produced a permanent and "unorganized State". The Dacians had been favored by several communist generations as autochthonous insurgents against an "Imperialist" Rome (with the Stalinist leadership of the 1950s proclaiming them to be closely linked with the Slavic peoples); however, Ceauşescu's was an interpretation with a distinct motivation, making a connection with the opinions of previous protochronists.
The regime started a partnership with Italian resident, former Iron Guardist and millionaire Iosif Constantin Drăgan, who continued championing the Dacian cause even after the fall of Ceauşescu. Critics regard these excesses as the expression of an economic nationalist course, amalgamating provincial frustrations and persistent nationalist rhetoric, as autarky and cultural isolation of the late Ceauşescu's regime came along with an increase in protochronistic messages.
Vladimir Tismăneanu wrote:
"Protochronism" was the party-sponsored ideology that claimed Romanian precedence in major scientific and cultural discoveries. It was actually the underpinning of Ceaușescu's nationalist tyranny.
No longer backed by a totalitarian state structure after the 1989 Revolution, the interpretation still enjoys popularity in several circles. The main representative of current Protochronism was still Drăgan (now deceased), but the New York City-based physician Napoleon Săvescu took over after Drăgan's death. Together, they issued the magazine Noi, Dacii ("We Dacians") and organized a yearly "International Congress of Dacology". Săvescu still does those.
Săvescu's most famous theory says that the Romanians are not descendants of the Roman colonists and assimilated Dacians, as mainstream historians say, but that they are the descendants of only the Dacians, who spoke a language close to Latin.
Other controversial theories of his include the Dacians (or their ancestors) developing of the first alphabet in the world (see the Tărtăria tablets), the first set of laws or the Dacian conquest of Western Europe, India, Iraq, Japan and the Americas.
"If the Harappa culture did not disappear after the Carpatho-Danubian invasion, how come the invaders themselves vanished, leaving no traces behind, or leaving, as Sir Wheeler put it, "nothing but a name?" How could the nomad Carpatho-Danubians, mainly a people of breeders, give birth not only to a new religion, but found splendid cities that outlived them to this day? How could the greatest and most complex literature in the world have come from these Carpatho-Danubian people? Actually, the whole Vedic literature is based on four texts (the oldest being Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda and Sama-Veda, the later Athara-Veda and two poems resembling the Iliad and the Odyssey only two thousand years older; Ramnayana and Mahabharata have preserved a toponimy echoing that of the Aryan Carpatho-Danubians' homeland and share the same main theme – the enmity and rancor between two families fighting over the throne of Bahataral (according to some, today's Banat-Romania).— The Conquest of India by the Carpatho-Danubian People
His theories are, however, disregarded by historical journals and most historians, e.g. Mircea Babeș, Lucian Boia and Alexandra Tomiță, who label these theories as pseudoscience and protochronistic and consider that there is not enough scientific evidence to support them. Dacia, journal of the Vasile Pârvan Institute of Archaeology, and the history journal Saeculum did not speak highly of him, either.
Dacian alphabet is a term used in Romanian Protochronism for pseudohistorical claims of a supposed alphabet of the Dacians prior to the conquest of Dacia and its absorption into the Roman Empire. Its existence was first proposed in the late 19th century by Romanian nationalists, but has been completely rejected by mainstream modern scholarship.
In the opinion of Sorin Olteanu, a modern expert at the Vasile Pârvan Institute of Archaeology, Bucharest, "[Dacian script] is pure fabrication [...] purely and simply Dacian writing does not exist", adding that many scholars believe that the use of writing may have been subject to a religious taboo among the Dacians. It is known that the ancient Dacians used the Greek and Latin alphabets, though possibly not as early as in neighbouring Thrace where the Ezerovo ring in Greek script has been dated to the 5th century BC. A vase fragment from the La Tène period (see illustration above), a probable illiterate imitation of Greek letters, indicates visual knowledge of the Greek alphabet during the La Tène period prior to the Roman invasion. Some Romanian writers writing at the end of the 19th century and later identified as protochronists, particularly the Romanian poet and journalist Cezar Bolliac, an enthusiast amateur archaeologist, claimed to have discovered a Dacian alphabet. They were immediately criticized for archaeological and linguistic reasons. Alexandru Odobescu, criticized some of Bolliac's conclusions. In 1871 Odobescu, along with Henric Trenk, inventoried the Fundul Peşterii cave, one of the Ialomiţei caves (See the Romanian Wikipedia article) near Buzău. Odobescu was the first to be fascinated by its writings, which were later dated to the 3rd or 4th century. In 2002, the controversial Romanian historian, Viorica Enăchiuc, stated that the Codex Rohonczi is written in a Dacian alphabet. The equally controversial linguist Aurora Petan (2005) claims that some Sinaia lead plates could contain unique Dacian scripts.
The linguist George Pruteanu called protochronism as "the barren and paranoid nationalism", because protochronism claims that the Dacian language was the origin of Latin and all other languages, including Hindi and Babylonian.
Protochronism in other countries
During the 1940s, protochronism in the Soviet Union claimed that Russians had been the first to invent the lightbulb and telephone. Imitating Stalinist trends in the Communist Bloc, Albania developed its own version of protochronist ideology which stressed the continuity of Albanians from ancient peoples such as the Illyrians. Macedonians from the Republic of North Macedonia have also engaged in protochronism claiming a Slavic-Thracian ethnogenesis.
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- Lavinia Stan, Lucian Turcescu, Religion and Politics in Post-Communist Romania, Oxford University Press, 2007, p.48
- Verdery, p.177
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- Boia, 138-139, 140, 147; Verdery, p.326
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- Boia, p.152; Eliade, "Zalmoxis, The Vanishing God", in Slavic Review, Vol. 33, No. 4 (December 1974), p.807-809
- Boia, p.152; Şimonca
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- "Ca şi cînd precedentele reuniuni n-ar fi fost de ajuns, dacologii bat cîmpii in centrul Capitalei"[permanent dead link], in Evenimentul Zilei, 22 June 2002
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- Petre, Zoe (28 August 2001). "Burebista, contemporanul nostru". Observator Cultural (in Romanian) (79). Archived from the original on 16 October 2007. Retrieved 1 August 2019.
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Este un bun prilej să demontăm un alt mit drag tracomanilor, anume cel al 'scrierii dacice' si al vechimii ei 'imemorabile'. 'Scrierea dacă' este pură inventie. Nu este nici măcar vorba de incertitudini, de chestiuni de interpretare (din ce punct de vedere privim) s.a.m.d., ci pur si simplu nu există nici o scriere dacă [...] Asa cum cred multi dintre învătati, este foarte posibil ca la daci, întocmai ca si la celti până la un anumit moment, scrierea să fi fost supusă unui tabu religios.
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On ne possède malheureusement pas de plus grand fragment pour établir s'il s'agit d'une inscription en langue latine ou grecque, éventullement gète, ou plutôt d'une ornementation grossière en forme d'alphabet, oeuvre probable d'un potier illetré. Ce tesson présente dans tous les cas un grand intérêt au point de vue de l'influence méridionale sur les artisans de notre station de Poiana, à la fin de l'époque Latène, à laquelle il appartient. Même s'il ne s'agit que d'un jeu d'imitation de quelque potier gète, sa connaissance approximative des lettres grecques ou romaines prouve que les relations entre les Gètes de la Moldavie et le monde gréco-romain d'outre Danube étaient devenues extrêmement étroites à la veille de la directe expansion romaine en Dacie.
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The Rumanian writer Eajden... fancies he has lighted upon the old Dacian alphabet, in an alphabet surviving till the last century amongst the Szeklers of Transylvania. But he has altogether overlooked the preliminary question, to what group of languages Dacian may belong.
- Le Moyen âge (in French). Champion. 1888. p. 258.
La théorie d'un alphabet dace est une fable; les caractères cyrilliques sont d'origine slave, non roumaine. Ce n'est que depuis le XV^ siècle que le peuple roumain les a admis dans son idiome national.Cf. Moldovan G. А latin, cyrill, (ШК es székely irasjegyek kérdése a. románoknál. (A Bp. Szernle 1887. évi oklób. sz.) Bpest, 1887.
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- Priestland, David (2009). The Red Flag: Communism and the making of the modern world. London: Penguin UK. p. 404. ISBN 9780141957388. "Protochronism became an enormously popular idea in Romanian culture in the 1970s and 1980s... Protochronism, of course had been seen before, in the Soviet claims of the 1940s that Russians had invented the telephone and the lightbulb. This was no accident. Romania was essentially importing a version of high Stalinism: a politics of hierarchy and discipline was wedded to an economics of industrialization and an ideology of nationalism. It was joined in this strategy by Albania"
- Stan, Lavinia; Turcescu, Lucian (2007). Religion and politics in post-communist Romania. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 48. ISBN 9780195308532.
- Tarța, Iustin Mihai (2012). Dynamic civil religion and religious nationalism: the Roman Catholic Church in Poland and the Orthodox Church in Romania, 1990–2010 (Ph.D.). Baylor University. p. 78. Retrieved 20 April 2017. "The official doctrine that Ceaușescu adopted was called Dacianism, Romania is not the only country to invoke its ancient roots when it comes to show national superiority, Albania also emphasized its Thraco-Illyrian origin."
- Lucian Boia, Istorie şi mit în conştiinţa românească, Bucharest, Humanitas, 1997
- B. P. Hasdeu, Ethymologicum Magnum Romaniae. Dicţionarul limbei istorice şi poporane a românilor (Pagini alese), Bucharest, Minerva, 1970
- (in Romanian) Mircea Martin, "Cultura română între comunism şi naţionalism" (II), in Revista 22, 44 (660)/XIII, October–November 2002
- (in Romanian) Ovidiu Şimonca, "Mircea Eliade şi 'căderea în lume'", review of Florin Ţurcanu, Mircea Eliade. Le prisonnier de l'histoire, in Observatorul Cultural
- Katherine Verdery, National Ideology under Socialism. Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceauşescu's Romania, University of California Press, 1991. ISBN 0-520-20358-5
- www.dacii.ro: A site displaying prominent characteristics of Romanian Protochronism.
- www.dacia.org: A site connected with Săvescu.
- Monica Spiridon's essay on the intellectual origins of Romanian Protochronism.
- Historical myths, legitimating discourses, and identity politics in Ceauşescu's Romania (Part 1), (Part 2)
- Tracologie şi Tracomanie (Thracology and Thracomania) at Sorin Olteanu's LTDM Project (SOLTDM.COM)
- Teme tracomanice (Thracomaniacal Themes) at Sorin Olteanu's LTDM Project (SOLTDM.COM)