Thursday 23 July 2015

Racka sheep

These are Racka sheep. The Racka is a unique breed with both ewes and rams possessing long spiral shaped horns. The breed is found in two major color patterns. The most common shows brown hair covering the heads and legs with the fleece varying in color from dark brown to light brown and white. Individuals are also found which are solid black. The wool tips on these animals fades to a reddish black with exposure to sunlight and with age the points of the fleece will turn gray. The Racka has been described as a hardy animal and is often used in crossbreeding due to its ability to pass this survivability to its offspring. 

If we look at the page about the Racka sheep at the Department of Animal Science - Oklahoma State University website, we read that: "The breed is of the Zackel type and originated in Hungary". We also see that this breed of sheep is also known as: Ratca (Romanian), Hortobágy Racka, Hungarian Zackel

Now if we look at the wiki page about Racka sheep we read that "Originating in Hungary, the Racka has existed since at least the 1800, when the first registry was established."

However we know that this sheep is not of Hungarian origin and that it existed before the 1800.

This is a detail of the fresco called "The birth of Jesus" from the Serbian monastery Pećka patrijaršija lokated in Kosovo. The fresco is dated to 1346. On this detail you can see two shepherds minding the flock of Racka sheep. So Serbian shepherds had flocks of Racka sheep in south of the Balkan peninsula in the first half of the 14th century. It must have been such a dominant breed, that it was depicted on the fresco as the common sheep.

So we can see that the Racka sheep existed in Serbia in the early 14th century. It should not be a surprise then that the adjective "Racka" actually means Serbian.

The Principality of Serbia or Serbian Principality was an early medieval state of the Serbs ruled by the Vlastimirović dynasty, that existed from c. 780 to 969 in Southeastern Europe. The first ruler of the dynasty known by name was Višeslav who began his rule around 780, being a contemporary of Charlemagne. The first capital of the this Serbian state was the city of Ras, which was the center of the area which became known as Raška. The first attested appearance of the name Raška is in the Kotor charter (1186), in which Stefan Nemanja is mentioned as župan of Raška. Soon after Raška (Rascia) became an exonym for Serbia in western sources (Papacy, German, Italian, French, Hungarian, Polish etc.) often in conjunction with Serbia (Servia et Rascia). However, that name appears scarcely in medieval Serbian and never in Byzantine works to denote the state.

The people from this region were in the Western Europe known as Raci, Rascijani, Rašani, Rác, Rácok;Ratzen, Raize, Raizen, Ratzians, Racowie, Rasciani, Natio Rasciana... This ethnonim was later applied to all the Serbs from medieval Serbian states. In late medieval time, Serbian Balkan states fell under the Turkish rule. The remaining Serbian inhabited territories across the rivers Sava and Danube, which already had a large Serbian population, swell with the refugees from the Balkan Serbian states. You can read more about Serbs in these territories on the page about Serbian Vojvodina. From the time of the disappearance of the Serbian state, the term Rascians was the the exonym that designated Serbs of the Habsburg Monarchy, and in a wider perspective, all South Slavs of the Monarchy. Because of the large concentration of Serbs in the southern Pannonian Plain, this region was called Rascia, today encompassing territories of Croatia (Slavonia), Serbia (Vojvodina), Hungary and Romania.

This is the map of the approximate territory, compiled based on various sources, which was ethnographically identified as Rascia between the 16th and 18th centuries. This territory inhabited primarily by the Serbs in the Habsburg Monarchy was called Latin: Rascia; Serbian: Raška/Рашка; Hungarian: Ráczság, Ráczország, rácz tartomány; German: Ratzenland, Rezenland.

This is the exact territory where in 1800's we find Racka (Serbian) sheep. 

The final proof that Racka sheep is actually Serbian sheep comes from something called "grammatical gender".  In linguistics, "grammatical gender" is a specific form of noun-class system in which the division of noun classes forms an agreement system with another aspect of the language, such as adjectives, articles, or verbs. This system is used in approximately one quarter of the world's languages. Serbian is one such language. In Serbian all nouns have genders. So if Raci is an ethnonim or an exonym, then adjective for male nouns is "Racki" and for female nouns is "Racka".  Serbian word for sheep, "ovca", pronounced "ovtsa", is a feminine gendered noun. This is why the adjectives used with the word sheep in Serbian have to have feminine endings, which means they have to end on "a". The expression "Serbian sheep" in Serbian would be "Racka ovca" so that both noun and adjective have the same ending. 

What about Hungarian? Could this also be the case in Hungarian? No. Not all languages have gendered pronouns. In languages that never had grammatical gender, there is normally just one word for "he" and "she", like "dia" in Indonesian, "ő" in Hungarian and "o" in Turkish. So Hungarian could not have been the source of the name "Racka". 

This shows that the name "Racka" comes from Serbian and that originally Serbs may have also called themselves Raseni, Rasi, Raci. This opens a big question: Were Serbs called Rasi because of Raška or was Raška called Raška because it was the land of Rasi? I believe that the second is the case, and that one of the old names of Serbs was Rasi. 

I found some information that the first mention or depiction of Racka like sheep are found in Mesopotamian and Etruscan sources. I have also seen mentions of Racka like sheep rock art from Caucasus. However I have no details to support any of this. I would be more than grateful to anyone who has any additional information about these ancient sources mentioning or depicting Racka like sheep. I believe that this sheep is closely linked with the Raseni, Rasi, Rasci, Raci - Serbs and that it was brought to Europe by them, id indeed it didn't originate in the Balkans. I also believe that tracing the previous mentions or depictions of this breed of sheep will help us shed more light on the possible origin of Raseni, Rasi, Rasci, Raci - Serbs.

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