07 March 2007

Romans, Rums, Greeks, Turks and German Emperors

Yesterday I exchanged several e-mails with my German friend Francisco Welter-Schultes concerning a snail that was once (and only once) recorded from Turkey. While attempting to figure out where exactly in Turkey this snail may have been found, we discussed some old German papers and touched upon a multitude of other subjects, including Kleinarmenien ("Little Armenia"), the Turkish town of Amasya and Rums.

To the Turks of Turkey a Greek is a Rum (pronounced "room"). Although most Turks wouldn't know it, Rum actually means "Roman"1. The reason why the origin of Rum may be obscure to them is probably because it has been in use for many, many centuries.

Sevan Nişanyan, in his etymological dictionary of Turkish2, gives the origin of Rum as the Greek romiós. A much older etymology shedding more light on the origin of the word was given by a Thomas Smith in the following 1683 article from the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions.


In his 1st sentence Smith is referring to Constantinople and "the Empire" is the Byzantine Empire. "The continent of Thrace", on the other hand, is the name given to the northwest corner of the present day Turkey (Trakya in Turkish) and the adjacent area in Greece across the border. The Ottomans referred to that area also as Rumeli ("the Land of the Rums"). In a nutshell, and if my understanding is correct, what Smith was saying is that after the Roman Empire collapsed, the Byzantine Empire centered around Constantinople was seen as the former's continuation. Hence, the Greeks became "Romans".


Smith's spelling of Rum as Vrum may have been due to his misunderstanding of its pronunciation. His Vrumler Padisha must have been Rumların Padişahı or "the Padişah of the Rums". Padişah (pronounced padishah and originally from Persian), the equivalent of "emperor", was the title of the Ottoman sultans.

1The present day Turkish word roman (originally from the French romance) means "novel"; the word for a Roman is Romalı ("a person of Rome"), while a Rumen is a Romanian. But a Romanian could also be called a Romanyalı. Finally, the Turks call Greece Yunanistan. So, a Greek is also a Yunan(lı). Yes, it could get complicated.
2 Sevan Nişanyan. 2003. Sözlerin Soyağacı.


alp kantoglu said...

O halde sormak isterim neden Mevlana Celaleddini Rumi denir? İlginç olan yalnızca Trakya'ya değil Osmanlılar çok uzun bir dönem Anadoluya ve ötesine de Rum ili demişlerdir. Çünkü oralar alıntıladığın yazıda da belirtildiği üzre uzun zaman Bizanslıların yani Romalıların olmuştur. Aslında bu muammaya en güzel cevap İlber Ortaylı dadır. Bizansa değil Doğu Roma İmparatorluğu diye asıl ismi kullandığımızda neden Rum sözünün kullanıldığını anlamak kolaylaşır.

Alp Kantoglu

alp kantoglu said...

Let me tell one more thing please. It should have been Urum not Vrum. You know these two are different in Turkish alphabet. Remind the poem.

Urumeli hisarına oturmusum
Oturmusta bir türkü tutturmusum..

or an Anatolian saying of Recep as " Irrecep"

so in old Turkish it was normal to use Urum instead of Rum. They were same.

John said...

Just to round out the story, Emperor Constantine had moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul in the early fourth century, and from then the empire was governed from there instead of Rome. (The move made sense in terms of where the economic centers were located.) Thus when the western part of the empire finally collapsed in the late fifth century, the eastern empire could still logically call itself "Roman" even without holding Rome, which was basically a provincial capital by that point.

Anonymous said...

To second Alp, the spelling is urum not "vrum" as Aydin typed it. The letter appears to have been stylized. Turks from the Balkans used to call the area Urumeli until a few decades ago.

Having said that, I am curious when the distinction between u and v occurred in the Latin language and alphabet. If you look at old engravings, there is only v. It is also curious that the letter w is called double-u in english.


Yes, it is probably Urum. I wasn't entirely sure that that was a V.

kutkut16 said...

Rumi is the Arabic for Rhomaios which is the Greek for Romanus. As Alp says, "Byzantine" is the late-medieval/early-modern way of calling that Chrsitian historical entity in Eastern Europe.
The land was called Rum by the Arabs (and some other Semitic-language speakers like the Syrians). Rumi (long i) is someone from there.
Hope this helps.

kutkut16 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kutkut16 said...

By the way, I just noticed your 1st footnote. "Roman" in Turkish is also now the PC term for gypsies, as they call themselves, and it is already being used in some new dance music. I agree with the Rumen and the Romanyali which you mentioned. Yunan(li) is quite a nice distinction for me who used to think that since the country is called Yunanistan, the person from there ought to be a "Yunan" and not "Yunanli". However, now I have learnt that Yunan is also the name of the country in Arabic, and other Semitic languages (like Syriac), and calling the country Yunan-istan is almost a hypernomination, using a Farsi ending for countries and the original Semitic name of the place. So now I am OK with using "Yunanli". Incidentally, "Yunan" is really from Ion/Ionia, as it was also used by the Persian satrapies in the 5th c BC in the form of Yawan. The tri-consonantal semitic stem of the word thus becomes y-w-n [yudh-waw-nun] with which the Syriac word Iawnoyo is constructed, which is of course the same as Arabic Yunani (long a and i). Now where does that second -n- come from in the Arabic form? That I have to ask someone who knows Arabic. :)


I was wondering about the origin of Yunan.

TDK's Türkçe Sözlük (Turkish Dictionary) (1988 ed.) also has Helen, defined as Grek, which is, in turn, defined as "Eski Yunanli", meaning "ancient Greek" (person or culture). It's silly that such a difference in terminology appeared in Turkish.

deniz said...

I have a summary explanation of u=v from the book A is for Ox - A Short History of the Alphabet by Lyn Davies (Folio Society 2006). I'll email it to you since it's a pdf file...