The term Arnăuți is derived from the mainly Albanian mercenaries of the 18th to 19th centuries when the Phanariot rulers of Wallachia and Moldova formed army corps. The Romanian term Arnăuț comes via Turkish from the Greek “arvanites” for the Albanian population in Greece. In time, the term Arnăuți came to refer to the occupation as a mercenary rather than an ethnicity. After the fall of the Phanariot regime in 1822, these army corps formed by Arnăuți were disbanded, but they remained in the cities as armed servants of boyars or foreign officials.
The Arnăuți as part of the New Year custom is confined to the area around Neamț in central-west Moldavia. Adascalitei claims that on New Year’s Eve, the Arnăuți sought to get closer to the locals by introducing them to the traditions of their Balkans hometowns and the custom has been continued by the locals. This claim to a supposed “Balkan” origin to the Arnăuți is not evident in the dance form. Giurchescu gives the distinguishing feature of the Arnăuți dance as the striking of swords in stylised battle , however this is not evident in any examples (publications or videos).
There are three dances typical for the Arnăuți,
- The entry and circling figure is typically a syncopated step ♪♩♪♩♩ which is common with the local social dance, De doi (and Ca la Breaza), but is also typical for Căluș in central southern Romania.
- The 7/16 rhythm three-step circling pattern that is common to Moldavian customs may also be performed.
- This is followed by a row-facing-row formation where they perform a dance with “hand clapping” figures typical of many central European dances.
The Arnăuți are typically dressed in traditional dress of white trousers, long white shirts and peasant shoes (opinci). Over this they wear a red shirt and a white cloth decorated with beads, embroidery and fringes (like a table cloth or large napkin), with similar cloths hung from their belts. They carry a decorated “mace” in their hand. On their heads they wear coroni, a kind of cardboard helmet, covered with red paper decorated with round pieces of mirror and beads. Since the Second World War, these helmets have become less common, being replaced by ordinary brown or black hats. In the past they wore red belts crossed over their shoulders, however these have now been replaced by fabric belts with beads on the edges.
Choreographic form, motifs, and music
|Arnăuții||circle||3-step in circle||3-step||7/16|
|Arnăuții||circle||single motif||syncopated step ♪♩♩♪♩||2/4|
|Arnăuții||two rows facing||figures||“hand clapping” figure||2/4|
- Giurchescu, Anca & Bloland, Sunni (1995). Romanian traditional dance : A contextual and structural approach. Mill Valley, California: Wild Flower Press.
- Ionescu, Lucian (2020). The Dance of the Arnăuts (Târgu Neamț, Moldova, Romania). YouTube. Online at:
- V Adăscăliței, I Ciubotaru (1969). Teatru folcloric din judetul Iași. Iași: Casa județeana a creației populare Iași.
- Pavel, Emilia (1971). Jocuri cu Masti - Zona Iasi. Iași: Comitetul Cultura Iași.