Morlachs (Croatian and Serbian: Morlaci, Serbian Cyrillic: Морлаци) was an exonym used for a rural community in the Lika and Dalmatian hinterlands. The term 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 the early 16th century. Later, when the community straddled the Venetian–Ottoman border in the 17th century, for Slavic-speaking, mainly Eastern Orthodox, and to a lesser degree Roman Catholic people. The exonym ceased to be used by the end of the 18th century, and came to be viewed 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 and Latin Morlachus or Murlachus, being cognate to Greek Μαυροβλάχοι Maurovlachoi, meaning "Black Vlachs" (from Greek μαύρο mauro meaning "dark", "black"). The Serbo-Croatian term in its singular form is Morlak; its plural form is 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 suggested it derived from the Latin maurus and Greek maurós ("dark"), the diphthongs au and av indicating 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 was considered that "black" referred to their clothes of brown cloth. The 17th-century Venetian Dalmatian historian Johannes Lucius suggested that 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), in which he wrote extensively about the Morlachs, thought that it derived from the Slavic more ("sea") – morski Vlasi meaning "Sea Vlachs". 18th-century writer Ivan Lovrić, observing Fortis' work, thought that it came from "more" (sea) and "(v)lac(s)i" (strong) ("strongmen by the sea"), and mentioned how the Greeks called Upper Vlachia Maurovlachia and that the Morlachs would have brought that name with them. Cicerone Poghirc offers a similar interpretation that it meant "Northern Latins", derived from the Indo-European practice of indicating cardinal directions by colors. Other theories suggest that it refers to their camps and pastures which were built in "dark" places,[who?] that it was a demonym derived from the Morava river region, or from the Morea peninsula, or, according to Dominik Mandić, from African Maurs.
Origin and culture
Early Morlachs were Latinized autochthonous people of Balkans mostly of Illyrian origin. The etymology of the exonym points to a connection with Vlachs, but as stated in Fortis' work Travels in Dalmatia, they were at that time Slavic-speaking. Because of migrations from various parts of the Balkans, the name had passed to later 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 were generally blond-haired, with blue eyes, and broad faces, while those around Zadvarje and Vrgorac were generally brown-haired with narrow faces. They also differed in nature. Although they were often seen by urban dwellers as, strangers and "those people" from the periphery  - provveditore, in 1730, Zorzi Grimani described them as "ferocious, but not indomitable" by nature, Edward Gibbon called them "barbarians", and Fortis praised their "noble savagery", moral, family, and friendship virtues, but also complained about their persistence in keeping to old traditions. 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", the Hasanaginica. Manfred Beller and Joep Leerssen identified the cultural traits of the Morlachs as being part of the South Slavic and Serb ethnotype.
They made their living as shepherds and merchants, as well as soldiers. They neglected agricultural work, usually did not have gardens and orchards besides those growing naturally, and had for the time old farming tools, Lovrić explaining it as: "what our ancestors did not do, neither will we". Morlach families had herds numbering from 200 to 600, while the poorer families around 40 to 50, from which they received milk, and made various dairy products. The "Vlach" or "Romanian" traditional system of counting sheep in pairs do (two), pato (four), šasto (six), šopći (eight), zeći (ten) has been preserved in some mountainous regions of Dalmatian Zagora, Bukovica, Velebit, and Ćićarija.
Contemporary I. Lovrić said that the Morlachs were Slavs who spoke better Slavic than the Ragusans (owing to the growing Italianization of the Dalmatian coast). Boško Desnica (1886–1945), after analysing Venetian papers, concluded that the Venetians undifferentiated the Slavic people in Dalmatia, and that the language and script of the region was labeled as "Illirico" or "Servian". Lovrić made no distinction between the Vlachs/Morlachs and the Dalmatians and Montenegrins, whom he considered Slavs, and was not at all bothered by the fact that the Morlachs were predominantly Orthodox Christian. Fortis noted that there was often conflict between the Catholic and Orthodox Morlachs.
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 Vlach"), while in 1322 Vlachs were allied with Mladen Šubić at the battle in the hinterland of Trogir.
In those early documents there is no identifiable differentiation between the terms Vlach and Morlach. The use of Morlachs is first attested in 1344, when Morolacorum are mentioned in lands around Knin and Krbava during the conflict between the counts of the Kurjaković and Nelipić families. In 1352, in the agreement in which Zadar sold salt to the Republic of Venice, Zadar retained part of the salt that Morlachi and others exported by land. In 1362, the Morlachorum, settled, without authorization, 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, who were a threat to security in Šibenik.
Early Vlachs probably lived on Croatian territory even before the 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 their pastoralism.[nb 2] The so-called Istro-Romanians continued to speak their Romance language on the island of Krk and villages around Lake Čepić in Istria, while other communities in the mountains above the lake preserved the Shtokavian-Chakavian dialect with Ikavian accent from the southern Velebit and area of Zadar.
The Istro-Romanians, and other Vlachs (or Morlachs), had settled Istria (and mountain Ćićarija) after the various devastating outbreaks of the plague and wars between 1400 and 1600, reaching the island of Krk. In 1465 and 1468, there are mentions of "Morlach" judge Gerg Bodolić and "Vlach" peasant Mikul, in Krk and Crikvenica, respectively. The Venetian colonization of Istria (and Ćićarija) occurred not later than the early 1520s, and there were several cases when "Vlachs" 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] immigrated and requested to be employed as military colonists. Initially, there were some tensions between these immigrants and the established Uskoks. In 1593, provveditore generale (Overseer) Cristoforo Valier mentioned three nations constituting the Uskoks: the "natives of Senj, Croatians, and Morlachs from the Turkish parts".
The name "Morlach" expanded into toponyms; the Velebit mountain was called Montagne della Morlacca ("mountain of the Morlachs"), while the Velebit canal was called Canale della Morlacca.
From the 16th century onward, the historical term changes meaning, as in most Venetian documents, Morlachs are now usually called immigrants, both Orthodox and Catholic, from the Ottoman-conquered territories in the Western Balkans (chiefly Bosnia and Herzegovina). These settled in the Venetian-Ottoman frontier, in the hinterlands of coastal cities, and entered Venetian military service by 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 similar to that of the Uskoks. Their military service granted them land, and freed them from trials, and gave them rights which freed them from full debt law (only 1/10 yield), thus many joined the so-called "Morlach" or "Vlach" armies.
At the time, some notable Morlach military leaders, [nb 4] who were also sung about in epic poetry, were: 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 roughly equally from either the Orthodox or the Catholic faith, the Mitrović-Janković family were the leaders of Orthodox Morlachs, while the Smiljanić family were leaders of Catholic Morlachs.
After the dissolution of the Republic of Venice in 1797, and loss of power in Dalmatia, the term Morlach would disappear from use.
During the time of Enlightenment and Romanticism, Morlachs were seen as the "model of primitive Slavdom", and the "spirits of pastoral Arcadia Morlacchia. They attracted the attention of travel writers like the 17th-century's Jacob Spon and Sir George Wheler, and 18th-century writers Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who labeled their poems as "Morlackisch". In 1793, at the carnival in Venice, a play about Morlacchi, Gli Antichi Slavi, was performed, and in 1802 it was reconceived as a ballet Le Nozze dei Morlacchi. At the beginning of the 19th century, still seen as relics from the primitive past and a byword for barbarous people, they inspired science fiction novelist H. G. Wells (Morlock), while the female embroidered leggings reminded Thomas Graham Jackson of the appearance of American Indian squaws. In the 20th century, Alice Moque, as did 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.
In the Balkans the term became derogatory, indicating people from the mountains – backward people, and was became disliked by the Morlachs (Croats and Serbs) themselves. There have been no individuals declaring themselves to be Morlachs in the Croatian censuses.
"Morlacchi" remains attested as an Italian family name, up to the present. People so named are evidently descended from Morlachs who had become assimilated in the Italian society.
- 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. The term "Vlach" was found in many medieval documents, often mentioned alongside other ethnonyms, thus, Zef Mirdita claims that this was more an ethnic than just a social-professional category. Although the term was used for both an ethnic group and pastoralists, P. S. Nasturel emphasized that there existed other general expressions for pastors.
- "Vlachs", referring to pastoralists, since the 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 are commonly called 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.
- Ivan Mužić (2011). Hrvatska kronika u Ljetopisu pop Dukljanina (PDF). Split: Muzej hrvatski arheoloških spomenika. p. 66 (Crni Latini), 260 (qui illo tempore Romani vocabantur, modo vero Moroulachi, hoc est Nigri Latini vocantur.).
In some Croatian and Latin redactions of the Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja, from 16th century.
- P. Skok (1972). Etymological dictionary of Croatian or Serbian language. II. Zagreb: JAZU. pp. 392–393.
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Jean François de Saint-Lambert (1716–1803) gave the thesis Greeks used the word Maurovlachia, i.e. Black Wallachia, for Upper Vallachia.
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"It is usual that there is perfect disharmony between the Latin and the Greek religions; neither of the clergymen do not hesitate to sow it: each side tells thousands of scandalous stories about the other" (Fortis 1984:45)
- Mužić 2010, p. 10.
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- Mužić 2010, p. 10, 11: Et insuper mittemus specialem nuntium…. Gregorio condam Curiaci Corbavie,…. pro bono et conservatione dicte domine (Vedislave) et comitis Johannis,….; nec non pro restitutione Morolacorum, qui sibi dicuntur detineri per comitem Gregorium…; Exponat quoque idem noster nuncius Gregorio comiti predicto quod intelleximus, quod contra voluntatem ipsius comitis Johannis nepotis sui detinet catunos duos Morolacorum…. Quare dilectionem suam… reget, quatenus si quos Morolacos ipsius habet, placeat illos sibi plenarie restitui facere…
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Prvi se put spominje ime »Morlak« (Morlachi) 1352 godine, 24. lipnja, u pogodbi po kojoj zadarsko vijeće prodaje sol Veneciji, gdje Zadar zadržava dio soli koju Morlaci i drugi izvoze, kopnenim putem.
- Mužić 2010, p. 11: Detractis modiis XII. milie salis predicti quolibet anno que remaneant in Jadra pro usu Jadre et districtu, et pro exportatione solita ﬁ eri per Morlachos et alios per terram tantum…
- Mužić 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).
- L. Margetić (2007). Statute of Senj from 1388 (in Latin and Croatian). Volume 34, No. 1, December. Senj: Senjski Zbornik. pp. 63, 77.
§ 161. Item, quod quando Morowlachi exeunt de monte et uadunt uersus gaccham, debent stare per dies duos et totidem noctes super pascuis Senie, et totidem tempore quando reuertuntur ad montem; et si plus stant, incidunt ad penam quingentarum librarum.
- Mužić 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...
- Fine 2006, p. 115.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Morlachs.|
- Croatian Encyclopaedia (2011). "Morlaci".