Vlach or Aromanian settlements in South-East Europe 

The Aromanians are one of the most fascinating of the various transnational minority groups in the Balkans. In the context of the region known as Macedonia and now subdivided between the nation states of Bulgaria, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece, this people tends to be called the Vlachs or Koutsovlachs but they are known by, and call themselves by, a number of different names, many geographically determined.

One reason for this is the nature of their traditional way of life, which was transhumance. Transhumant shepherds would migrate seasonally between summer and winter grazing lands, often significant distances apart, following the same droving routes between highland and lowland each year. They paid little regard to political boundaries, unless forced, and therefore the geographical space they occupied was greater than their numerical population might suggest (even though it is thought that there could well have been 500,000 Aromanians across the Balkans on the eve of the First World War).

Individual branches of Aromanians tended to be known by the names of the mountain ranges where they grazed their flocks in summer. For example, on the territory of modern Greece, those Aromanians frequenting the pastures of the Gramos mountain range in summer were known as the Gramostani and those on the Pindus Mountains as the Pindusteani.

By no means all Aromanians in this region practised transhumance. Many in fact were merchants and, indeed, part of the local elite in towns and larger villages, for example in what is now Florina prefecture in northern Greece abutting the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The whole geographical region of Macedonia was ethnically mixed and polyglot and therefore the Aromanians, whether shepherds or merchants, were likely to speak one or more of the local Slavic vernaculars and/or Greek and Turkish as well as Aromanian. Certainly, the urban Aromanians were or became Greek-speaking and of the Orthodox religion and increasingly identified themselves with the Greek nation state, although those who did not – and there were not a few of these – emigrated to Romania (particularly to Dobruja) and beyond to Australia and North America.

With the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the construction of nation states with enforced international borders, Vlachs have largely had to give up their transhumant lifestyle. Most remain bilingual or trilingual, speaking their own Vlach or Aromanian language plus the official state language and often a minority language – for example, the Vlachs in SE Albania may speak Albanian and Greek or Macedonian as well as their Vlach mother tongue.

Despite the processes of assimilation, there are still 20,000 or more Aromanians in Greece, with typical Vlach villages including Nymfaio (known as Nevesca in Aromanian) and Pisoderi in Florina prefecture, and Perivoli in Grevena prefecture.

Researching Aromanian family history is likely to be challenging, at least back beyond 1913 (when Epirus and Macedonia were incorporated into Greece). Many families were mobile across what are now international frontiers and many adjusted their surnames to suit the prevailing winds of politics (for instance, commonly changing the suffix at the end of their name from -ović  to -ov to –ovski).

Our Google Map shows just a selection of the main Vlach settlements in SE Europe – especially those where Albania, Greece and Macedonia meet. It also shows the settlements in Dobruja, Romania, which mostly date  from 1925 onwards, when the Romanian state offered land there to Albanian Vlachs.

There are many more settlements not shown on this map – the map does not purport to show the potentially hundreds of Vlach communities across Albania and Greece in particular.

 

A version of this blog and accompanying map were originally published on the bluebirdresearch website in 2010 and 2014.

Greek communities in Egypt 

The Greeks formed the largest European community in Egypt before the First World War: 62,973 Greeks were counted in the 1907 census. As well as Alexandria, Cairo, Ismailia and Port Said, Greeks settled and lived in smaller towns such as Damietta, Edfu, Helwan, Kantara, Mansoura and Tanta.

Alexandria, along with Constantinople and Smyrna, was one of the great hubs of Greek business and culture outside Greece in the period leading up to the First World War. A Greek Consulate was set up in Alexandria as early as 1833, immediately after Greek independence in 1832, and the population flourished with the cotton boom of the 1860s. Many among the earliest waves of immigrants came from those cosmopolitan Greek families which had business as well as kinship connections throughout the Mediterranean and beyond to, for example, Britain and Switzerland.  And the Greeks came to Alexandria not just from Greece but of course from the Greek regions of Turkey-in-Europe and Asia Minor. Indeed, a disproportionate number arrived in Alexandria from the Greek islands such as Chios, Crete, Cyprus and Lemnos which were Ottoman possessions throughout the 19th century.

in Alexandria, popularly known as Alex, the Greeks settled especially in the downtown Ramleh and Shatby (the so-called Quartier Grec) neighbourhoods, where their businesses – whether small grocer’s or international finance – prospered and attracted further immigration. Even when immigration eased off (for instance, when Greeks started emigrating en masse to USA, or after the 1907 financial crash), the number continued to swell by natural increase – there were between 1,000 and 2,000 Greeks born annually in Alexandria during the 1910s and 1920s. At the time of the 1917 census, 25,393 Greek citizens were counted in Alexandria – and it should be noted that this figure excludes those who were British, Ottoman or of course Egyptian subjects. By the next census in 1927, which was about the time the Greek population in Egypt peaked, this figure had reached 37,106 (approximately 6% of Alexandria’s total population).

Overwhelmingly, Greeks in Egypt were of the professional and merchant class. In the cities, Greeks were bankers and financiers, lawyers and doctors, architects and engineers; however, they played no role in the civil service. Everywhere they were cotton factory owners and exporters, traders, money-lenders, food manufacturers, tobacco merchants, distillers, millers, hoteliers, innkeepers, victuallers, restaurateurs and cafe owners. They also had shipping interests in Alexandria and along the length of the Suez Canal. Of course, there were working class Greeks too, many of whom arrived in the mid-19th century as immigrants from the Ottoman Empire (for instance, from the Greek islands in the Aegean, such as Kasos) rather than from independent Greece, labouring on the Canal and finding work as cooks and sailors.

The Greek communities in Egypt today are dwindling. There was a mass exodus after the July 1952 Revolution and an estimated 70% of the community is thought to have emigrated from Egypt during the years 1957-62. Of course, many headed for Greece, even if only temporarily; many more emigrated to Australia and North America.

We have created a Google Map  showing the locations of the principal Greek communities in Egypt from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries, as well as some of the source locations from which the immigrants hailed. Many came from islands and from those Greek areas of population still at that time within the Ottoman Empire.

This map shows (red pins) the location of Greek communities formed in Egypt during the mid-C19th to early C20th, and also (blue pins) the source locations of many of those migrants. As mentioned above, the Greeks who went to Egypt often came from outside the mainland of the independent Kingdom of Greece formed in 1832, in other words from the territory of the still extant Ottoman Empire of which Egypt was still technically a part.

 

Sources:

Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, vol 35.2, pub Pella, 2009

Alexander Kitroeff, “The Greeks in Egypt 1919-1937: Ethnicity and Class”, pub Ithaca Press, 1989

This is a revised version of text and map which originally appeared on the bluebirdresearch website in 2010.