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Românian flag legends

Last modified: 2016-06-29 by alex danes
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[Romanian flag] image by António Martins-Tuválkin

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Dacian origin of the colors

The colours of the Romanian flag is a heritage from the Dacians, the Romanians' ancestors. The first written description of the flag is since 14 April 535. It was made by Roman Emperor Justinian (527 - 565) in his book Novella XI, and representing the colours of Dacia. Novella XI is now in Vatican's Library. The Latin text: "Ex parte dextra, in prima divisione, scutum rubrum, in cuius medio videtur turris, significans utramque Daciam, in secunda divisione, scutum coelesti, cum (signum) tribus Burris, quarum duae e lateribus albae sunt, media vero aurae". (Dr. Marius Bizerea, "Tricolorul românesc peste veacuri", "Magazin istoric", nr. 9/1970, p.50- 51).

Michael the Brave who reunited all 3 Romanian provinces (Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia) in 1600, reunited also the 3 colours red, yellow and blue. (" Tricolorul romanesc: marturie a vechimii si dainuirii neamului nostru", prof. Gheorghe Vasilescu).
Aurelian Macovei, 7 January 2008

My Latin is not very good, but it's something like "On the dexter side a red field with a castle for Dacia, on the other side (the sign of) Burris on a celestial field." The rest is even more iffy; something like: "these two being white on the side and gold in the middle"?
Curiously, for "field" it uses the word "scutum", which I associate with "shield". Yet, this is supposedly to be long before the 9th century.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 8 January 2008

It does not convince me fully. If one searches for the Latin text in the internet, only Romanian pages citing this turn up (some of them saying the date is 535, some 553). No other pages show this text, although most (all?) of the Novellae should be found online. One problem might be, that most of the Novellae ("new, additional" legislation after the well-known main part of the Corpus Iuris Civilis) were originally published in Greek, so Latin translations (of later date?) might differ somewhat. My short search does cast some doubt about the correct citation as well, i.e. what exactly is "book XI" of the Novellae? Is this the running number (of 168 known novellae) or the number of a compilation volume? I would like to find the original text (ad fontes!).
Marcus E.V. Schmöger, 8 January 2008

I did some research on this topic. The results I present here, are preliminary, though. The problem is that Marius Bizerea has successfully obscured his traces.

  1.  The article
    Title: Tricolorul românesc peste veacuri
    (in English: The Romanian tricolour over centuries)
    Medium: article in a non-vexillological source
    Main author(s): Marius Bizerea
    Language: Romanian
    Source title: Magazin istoric
    Source number (date): vol. 42, iss. 9 (1970)
    Source pages: 50-51

    The article is quite short (only two pages) and, as far as I understand it, does base its conclusions on two main sources:
    - a book by the German historian Neigebaur, from 1851 [2]
    - a legal text issued as Novella XI by East Roman emperor Justinian [3] [4]

    The problem with both sources is that Bizerea does not properly cite his sources, so it is very difficult to find the relevant text part. This shows even in the title of the cited work by Neigebaur, where he makes four spelling mistakes ("Dacien aus der Überresten des klassichen Alterthums, mit besonderer Rucksicht auf Siebenbürgen. Topographische zusammengestellt" instead of the correct "Dacien: aus den Überresten des klassischen Alterthums, mit besonderer Rücksicht auf Siebenbürgen, topographisch zusammengestellt"). Interestingly, these spelling errors are faithfully copied by all the epigones of Bizerea on the internet, clearly showing that none of them has ever had a look at the book.

    It should be easier with the "Novella XI".

  2.  The Novella XI
    The article claims that the cited Latin text is from the Novella XI. It is not. The Novellae were "new, additional" legislation after the well-known main part of the Corpus Iuris Civilis, that Justinian had issued. There are a number of editions of the Novellae that can be found in any well-sorted university library or the like. I had a look at two of them [3] [4] and read the Latin text of the Novella numbered XI (11). The text (indeed Latin in the original), as far as I understand it without translating it carefully, is about the administration of a few of the Balkan provinces, including Dacia Mediterranea and Dacia Ripensis. There is no trace whatsoever of the above-mentioned text part, the word "scutum" (shield), for instance, does not appear.

    The article claims that the novella XI was issued in 553 AD, but actually this was 535 AD (most probably only an error of transposed digits). One problem in Bizerea's article is his claim that he has read the text in the Novella XI in the Vatican Library. From the article it is not clear what he means with this: he does not disclose if this was a manuscript or one of the several printed editions (and which). He just writes: found in the Vatican Library. This does serve two purposes, I guess:
    - making it really difficult to actually read what he claims to having read (who is actually going to the Vatican for scrutinizing this?)
    - providing a certain "aura", so that no one would cast doubt on his claims.

  3.  Neigebaur
    The book by Neigebaur [2] is basically a catalogue of fragments of Latin inscriptions found in Dacia. The inscriptions are ordered topographically. As Bizerea does not even give a hint where in the 310-page book he has found a reference to the three Romanian colours, I had no real chance of finding it, if there is any.

  4.  Preliminary conclusions
    The facts are:
    - Bizerea's article is very lax in citing the sources
    - Novella XI does not contain the text the article claims
    - it is virtually impossible to find the reference in Neigebaur's work
    - we all probably are agreed that a very much heraldically sounding text in a 6th century AD text is totally anachronistic.
Therefore: this whole legend is a falsification made up by somebody, most probably Marius Bizerea.

Wait a minute. Okay, out of curiosity, I had a look at two other of the cited sources in the article, namely the two volumes of the Codex diplomaticus Hungariae [5] [6] . This is a rather comprehensive work containing all the Hungary-related deeds that the author (G. Fejer) had found. The first volume has no surprises, but also contains the Novella XI (on pp. 131-134), of course without any heraldic or vexillological reference.

However the other volume (a supplementary one) gives (on pp. 14-21) a deed by Justinian, dated 530 AD, that also (as the Novella XI) refers to administrative details in the Balkan provinces. The note at the end of this document says that this is a translation from Greek to Latin, "faithfully transcribed and translated" by a certain Demetrius Musaki, secretary and "Inclyti Consilii Auditor", on 12 December 1736. It is not clear to me, where this is originally from, i.e. where the Greek document was and perhaps is. This document indeed does contain a text like the one cited by Bizerea, but longer:
"Insuper constituimus, tibique damus hic descripta armorum insignia: videlicet: scutum in septem partes divisum; in medio eius, scutum aureum, cui inest aquila dupplex, alba et nigra, quae significat Emblema Imperiale, cuius capita coronata sunt purpureo Imperiali diademate, ex parte dextra in prima divisione scutum rubrum, in cuius medio videtur turris, significans utramque Daciam, in secunda divisione scutum coeleste, cum tribus Burris, quarum duae e lateribus albae sunt, media vero aurea, quae indicat Albaniam superiorem; in tertia sectione scutum album cum uno Leone, indicante Epyrum; ex parte vero sinistra in sectione scutum coelestis coloris cum dupplici cruce aurea, exprimente secundam Pannoniam; in secunda divisione scutum rubrum, in cuius medio est caper nigri coloris, significans Macedoniam: et in tertia sectione scutum viridis coloris, et in eo duo brachia vestita, stemma aureum septem margaritis gemmatum tenentia, quae indicant Thessaliam: duo quoque emicant astra aurea, unum in media superioris scuti parte, et alterum in inferiori, quae complementum symbolicum ceterarum terrarum, et provinciarum terminant. Super dictis emblematibus apparet crux erecta triformis, significans dignitatem summi sacerdotii, corona Ducali tecta; in dextra eius parte gladius aureus absolutam in temporali authoritatem indicans: e sinistra vero pedum Pastorale, dictans authoritatem in spirituali, quae omnia cooperiuntur Pileo rubro, longo funicolo cum longis nodis et aureis fimbriis circumplexo, quo caput tuum adornabis comparens in omnibus publicis functionibus."
My translation:
"Furthermore we resolve and give you here the described armorial bearings, namely: a shield divided in seven parts, in the center thereof a golden shield, on which there is a double eagle, white and black, which signifies the emblem of the Emperor, the heads of which are crowned by a purple imperial diadem; on the right side in the first division a red shield, on which appears a tower, for both Dacias; in the second division a blue shield, with three cows, the two lateral ones being white, but the central one golden, which means Upper Albania; in the third division a white shield with one lion, meaning Epyrus; on the left side, however, in the first division a shield of blue colour with a golden double cross, representing Pannonia Secunda; in the second division a red shield, on which there is a goat of black colour, signifying Macedonia; and in the third division a shield of green colour, and on it two clothed arms, holding a golden wreath adorned with seven pearls, that means Thessalia; and there appear also two golden stars, one in the middle of the upper shield and the other in the lower part, which limit the symbolic complements of the other countries and provinces. Over said emblems appears a threefold erect cross, signifying the dignity of the highest priest, covered with a ducal crown; on its right side a golden sword indicating the absolute power in temporal matters; on its left side, however, a crozier, meaning the authority in spiritual matters; all of them are covered by a red cap, embraced by a long rope with long knots and golden fringe, with which you will adorn your head whenever you consider in all public functions."
Almost final conclusions
Although I have now found one of the possible sources for the enigmatic text, there is still work ahead, particularly finding the original source in Greek. The text itself is clearly anachronistic, i.e. probably not much older than its translation into Latin in 1736. The whole blazoning of the coat-of-arms sounds very heraldic, and of baroque times to me. It is, however, also interesting that Bizerea never published the whole text, but only a short one that supports his hypothesis of the ancient origin of the Romanian colours. If he would have published the whole text, one would easily see, that:
- one part of his published description ("tribus burris") refers to Albania and having nothing to do with Romania (Dacia); he just cut his text right before the reference to Albania.
- the coat-of-arms contains a lot of colours, not only the Romanian ones, namely as field colours all traditional heraldic tinctures except for Sable and Purple; and as charge colours at least Argent, Or and Sable (most charges are of undefined colour). So, arbitrarily picking out a short sequence, provides Bizerea with a reference to Dacia as well as, by mere chance, the Romanian colours.

So, we have one guy falsifying a document with a heraldic description (sometime in the 18th century perhaps); and another guy (Bizerea) falsifying an article by mis-citations and arbitrary shortening of a text, plus gross mis-interpretation of the found texts.

[1] Bizerea, M (1970) Tricolorul românesc peste veacuri, in: "Magazin istoric" 42 (9): 50-51.
[2] Neigebaur, JDF (1851) Dacien: aus den Überresten des klassischen Alterthums, mit besonderer Rücksicht auf Siebenbürgen, topographisch
. Kronstadt (Gött).
[3] von Lingenthal, CEZ (ed.) (1881) Imp. Iustiniani PP. A. Novellae quae vocantur sive constitutiones quae extra codicem supersunt ordine chronologico digestae. Leipzig (Teubner).
[4] Heimbach, GE (ed.) (1851) Authenticum: Novellarum constitutionum Iustiniani versio vulgata quam .... Leipzig (Barth).
[5] Fejer, G (1829) Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, ecclesiasticus ac civilis (tomus primus). Budapest (Royal Hungarian University Press).
[6] Fejer, G (1841) Codex diplomaticus Hungariae, ecclesiasticus ac civilis (tomi VII volumen V). Budapest (Royal Hungarian University Press).
Marcus E.V. Schmöger, 8 February 2008

My opinion is this:

  1.  Heraldic shields and the art/science of heraldry appeared as early as XIth - XIIth century. Of course, that doesn't mean that there were no identification or specific signs before that, for military and administrative use. However, they were very simple like an eagle, a cross etc.
  2. It is possible, although not mentioned in old writings, that the blue, yellow and red colours were used by tradition in clothing and art, from ancient times.
  3. During the Communist era in Romania (especially after Ceausescu came to power officially, in 1967) a movement called Protochronism was meant to affirm in a nonscientific way that the Romanians and Dacians were the oldest and most developed habitants in Eastern Europe. This led to some bizarre conclusions, like "studying the Dacian Draco (flag) on emperor Trajan's column in Rome, the scientists concluded that the draco's snake body had blue-yellow-red scales"!!!
  4. The original source presented here describes a very rich shield, unlike Bizerea. So this would be a case of lying by omission.
  5. Magazin Istoric, although a very well documented and respected history magazine, had sometimes political and even unscientific articles if the Communist Party ordered so. In their first free number (January 1990) they apologised for this unhappiness.
  6. The conclusion is that all doubtful articles and studies should be treated carefully, and at least confirmed by another independent source. This is not the case here, as all heraldic studies written after 1970 and concerning Romania did not mention anything like this.
Alex Danes, 3 May 2008

Informations on the Romanian Presidential site

(See our versions of the English and Romanian language pages here)

As a Romanian, I can tell you a large part of this is based on unreliable and biased information, and, largely, on wishful thinking. Its source is qualified enough, but it did not bother to look beyond the shroud of what is, in fact, very recent myth.

1) "Sigillography attests that at certain historical stages, the Romanian flag had the three colours arranged horizontally"
Nothing like that! First of all, there is no medieval sigillography for Romania, just for its individual Principalities. There were no common symbols, other than incidental (during certain reigns, as a union of -usually- the seals of Moldavia and Wallachia). The flags (always several) had a wide variety of colours (most I have seen were either white or green) and stood for army units. And also, flags in Transylvania, a polity linked to the Hungarian crown throughout its medieval history, should not be included in any professional description.
2) "Moreover, recent research indicates that they existed even on the Dacian standard presented on Trajan's Column in Rome. This standard was of a special form: a bright metal wolf's head hanging from which were long coloured bands of cloth. As the wind blew, the standard gave a whiz that scared the enemy and encouraged those who carried it in battle. In critical moments, hiding the standard so that it should not be taken by the enemy was a custom common with several peoples, including therefore the Dacians, the Daco-Romans and the Romanians."
I challenge anybody to try reconstruct colours on a marble monument. The wolf standard did exist (with a very unclear meaning and purpose), but linking the Dacians and Romanians of today belongs to the realm of anti-science. Incidentally, the description that the site gives of the Phanariotes is absurdly biased and out-of-date.

The flag appeared as a fact (and not legendary "recent research") at some point in the early XIXth century, probably introduced by a prince of Wallachia. It's hard to find info about this, but I remember that it was allowed by the Porte in the 1830s (it makes the story about it being Tudor's standard, a decade earlier, highly doubtful - I don't know the flag in the Military Museum, but I know that the expos in there have never been updated since Ceausescu). The prince, I think, was from the Ghica (also known as Ghika) family. The flag was horizontally red-yellow or yellow-red, with a crest on blue - even a blue crest, it's not clear to me (either the Wallachian eagle or both it and the Moldavian bull's head). Flags of this combination of colours were spawned individually in the both of the extra-Carpathian principalities, out of obscure but recent traditions (no later than the late 1700s, if not the early 1800s). These are featured on the Moldavia and Wallachia pages. It became standard to speak of blue-red for Moldavia and yellow-blue for Wallachia, with the 1848 Revolution placing them together (the Revolution was the very first traceable event to have a Union as its goal, no matter what the folklore may be). With it started a Romantic re-invention of the past: the two flags would feature in paintings from the period, but dealing with XIVth-XVIth century subjects. At the same time, the colours became symbols to the Romanians living in other regions, such as Transylvania, but never actually stood the regions as such. They were "extended" to the idea of a Romanian nation, but were not symbols of geographical entities other than Moldavia and Wallachia. In parallel, it was also what happened with the name - the word "Romanian" was very loosely used prior to the XIXth century, and is to be found mostly in Wallachian tradition - the proper name for this principality, in our language, is "Tara Romaneasca" (roughly: "The land of the Romanians" - arguably, connected somehow to the fact that serfs in this part of the country were known as "rumani", than from any direct connection with the Romans - although our language is, beyond doubt, a Romance one). Also, the flag was and was not a symbol of resistance: the Austro-Hungarians made sure to limit any nationalism in Transylvania and the Banat - parts of the very centralised Hungarian half - but had no problem with the three colours featuring on the crest of  autonomous Bukovina, placed there through local initiative.

Dan Dima, 7 September 2005

The colors of the flag and the monasteries in Bukovina

"Balkan Ghosts" is a 1992 travelogue by Robert Kaplan. Two notable flag mentions are made, both about Romania. On page 143, in the chapter "The Painted Monasteries of Bukovina" a folk etymology of the Romanian flag is offered (perhaps somewhat self-servingly) by a tour guide:

"Now, do you understand why our national flag is red, blue and yellow?" asked Mihai. "Because they are the reigning colors of our great monasteries: red for Humor, blue for Voronets and yellow for Moldovitsa."
Eugene Ipavec, 30 December 2009

This explenation for the Romanian colors is pure fantasy. Not to mention that in the 19th century, when the flag was born, Humor, Voronets and Moldovitsa were part of the Duchy of Bukovina, itself part of the Habsburg Empire.
Alex Danes, 30 December 2009