Ethnographic history

This section combines history, people and ethnography to give a geographic context for the past and present practices of traditional music and dance.

Ethnographic zones

A Romanian definition for ethnographic zones is,

“a large or small territory precisely delimitated which presents united ethnographic characteristics determined by the traditions of socio-history crystallised in the manner it is placed, and the occupations, costumes, popular art, habitations.”

But every Romanian book will have a different combination presented, the total number within Romanian ranging between 60 and 120. In reality ethnographic zones are not defined by borders, they are areas of greater similarity of some features, within interference zones of shared traditions. Many elements of the folk arts are derived from recent past fashions and styles of living, but a few might have roots deeper in history.

Romanian administrative zones

Voivodes and Cneaz

Vlach and Romanian political organisation was based on small groups of peasants and shepherds under the leadership of the cneaz (Romanian spelling, also referred to as knez or kenézes). The knezats were under the regional voivode. This organisation was known throughout Vlach and Romanian areas in southeast Europe during Slavic, Ottoman and Hungarian ruled.

The both the terms knez and voivode are borrowed from Slavic for Princes and Dukes. Slavic Knez are recorded in most Slavic regions (Moravia, Russia, Serbia etc.) from the 10th century.

Documents with references to Vlach Knez start in the 13th century with the “Carmen miserabile” (written by Rogerios, archbishop of Split and issued at the order of Johannes, bishop of Pest) and in a charter of 1247 by King Baela IV of Hungary. The knez are widely recorded from the 14th century onwards.

Romanian “Țară”

Romanian Țară

The Țara (Țara = Latin word for country) are the most precisely defined zones. These are historic-social survivals from the Middle Ages and in many cases have evolved into ethnographical zones. Some of these zones are coexistent with the old medieval Țări (singular = Țară, plural = Țări) which were sheltered areas along river valleys or in small depressions of the sub-mountain areas. The most pronounced geographical fragmentation is in Transylvania which gave a more precise delimiting of these Țări and regions into distinct units. The medieval names, dating from documents of the 14th to 18th centuries, are still used today for Țara Bârsei, Țara Oltului (or Țara Făgărașului), Țara Zărandului, Țara Moților, Țara Bihariei, Țara Lapușului, Țara Chioarului, Țara Oașului. Three further Țări are located outside Transylvania, but adjacent to the old borders of Transylvania; Țara Dornelor and Țara Vrancei are the only medieval Țări in Moldavia and Țara Loviștei is the only Țara in Muntenia.

Romanian “Ținut”

The term Ținut (= region) is used for the Moldavian ethnographic zones, such as Ținutul Sucevei and Ținutul Falticenului, and now also sometimes for some the Transylvanian zones. Another term occasionally used is ocol (= district) which is common to the Slavic (Bulgarian = окòлия, Serbian = okolica). The same term was later used for the 1938-39 administrative regions.

Ethnographic entities

Other areas are known as ethnographic entities without being specifically termed Țări. Examples of these are Mărginimea Sibiului, the Târnave and Năsăud regions, the Gurghiu valley, the source of the Mureș, Valea Almăjului, Valea Hârtibaciului, Valea Elanului. Some areas have simple names such as Codru and Pădureni.

East and south of the Carpathians the territorial units are larger and the boundaries between them are less well defined which gives rise to transitional areas. In these areas of Moldavia local ethnographic areas still exist such as Neamț, Roman, Huși, Botoșani, Iași, Tutova (hills), Valea Bistrița, Valea Trotuș and Câmpulung Moldovenesc.

Romanian “județe”

Județul 1927-1938

The term for the counties of Romanian (județ) originates from the 15th century where a județ was ruled by an administrative and judicial jude, but the current concept of administrative județ was created during the 19th century.

Ținuturi 1939

The zones south of the Carpathians, Buzău, Prahova, Vlașca, Argeș, Muscel, Teleorman, Vâlcea, Gorj, Mehedinți, are former historic regions which around the 19th century were turned into administration units (județ). Many of these also have sub-divisions corresponding to ethnographic zones.

Județul 1968-present

There have been a number of changes to the administrative divisions which lead to variations in the regional names in old ethnographic references. Between 1927 and 1938 there were 71 județe. In 1938 King Carol II initiated an institutional reform changing this to ten Ținuturi.

Initially the Communist party changed to the Russian system of raions with 15 regiunea, but reverted to 39 județul in 1968, with minor changes creating counties of Giurgiu and Călărași in 1981.

Romanian regions

Regions of Romania

Regions of Romania

Most of our website uses the division into three major regions which indicate approximately the separate historical states that combined to form the current country of Romania.

  1. Moldavia (Moldova) – including Bucovina and historically the areas of the Republic of Moldova and Bugeac
  2. Wallachia (Țara Românească) – including Oltenia and Muntenia plus Dobrogea
  3. Transylvania (Transilvania) – including Maramureș and the western Romanian regions of Crișana and Banat

The historic areas under these titles is not as clear or exact and our use of these terms is based on the current understanding. For example it does not in any way suggest that Banat was part of medieval Transylvania, or that greater Dobrogea was historically always part of Țara Românească.

Published on 11th March 2017, last modified on 12th August 2018