The country of Papura Voda

There is a Romanian expression of hundreds of years old that has not lost its significance yet. “The country of Papura Voda” expresses a place, a locality, a county or a land without a master, in which no rule or law is observed and where everyone does what he wants. The expression is closely related to some historical events that took place in Oltenia in the 18th century, on the basis of which many local legends were born. Then, in the absence of political leadership and operating laws, Oltenia was ruled by villagers, of whom Neagoe Papură, also called Papură Vodă.

At that time, Oltenia was in the middle of three great powers: Austrian, Russian and Turkish. Each time these states fought, the Romanian lands became a theatre of war. This was the case in the years 1716-1718, during the Austro-Turkish War, concluded in favour of the Austrians with the signing of the Passarowitz Peace Treaty of 21 July 1718. Through this treaty, Oltenia was ceded to the winners, although it was not part of the Ottoman Empire and did not count on the losers. The boyars of Craiova did not resist, because they escaped from the Turkish influence and could more easily establish commercial relations with the Austrians.

Unfortunately, the Austrians have proved to be fiercer than any other conqueror, trying to install in the region a public administration supported by military aid, but also to convert the population to Catholicism. Their purpose was to add Wallachia to their empire, a fact that not even the Turks had ever achieved in the centuries-long history of their rule in the region. Seeing this, all the inhabitants of the region, from small to large, started a virulent revolt against the occupation.

Most men went to the forests, entering resistance movements and becoming outlaws. They were hauling Austrian caravans carrying gold and the tax from Oltenia to the Habsburg Empire, plundering and killing Austrian soldiers. The magnitude and popularity of the outlaw was so great that it was said in the people that young men who did not become outlaw and did not kill imperial soldiers were not true men and thus could not marry.

Of the young Oltenian outlaws, a very known one was Pavel Lotru from Bălcești. He was known by name and deed even by the Austrians, who in vain sought him for more than three years, because they could not catch him. He escaped every time because he kept as mistresses the wives of wealthy Germans and Hungarians in Sibiu, who told him everything they were talking about in their house about Austrians and outlaws. In 1726, one of these women told Paul about a large Austrian caravan that will pass through Oltenia after collecting the taxes from Hungary, Croatia and Transylvania. In the caravan there would be 20 carts full of gold bags, but many Imperial soldiers would guard them. Knowing that he cannot cope with such a challenge alone, Pavel Lotru from Bălcești called for help the bands of outlaws led by Radu Ursan and Neagu Papură. Together, the Oltenan outlaws attacked the caravan near Drăgășani, stealing all their wealth, keeping some for themselves, but then giving the most part of the money to the villagers throughout the Oltenia region. This robbery affected the Habsburg Empire so strongly that the Austrians immediately dismissed the ruler of Craiova.

A few years later, in 1733, another act of riot took place from the part of the Oltenians. Legend says that on the eve of Christmas of that year, several Oltenians and imperial soldiers were at the Puţureanu inn in downtown Craiova. One of the soldiers, named Lorincz, with a troubled mind from the drink, caught one of the landladies, kissing her. In the inn there was also an outlaw, the fiancée of the landlady, who, seeing the offensive act, started to punch the Austrian to remember him. In a short time, the quarrel between the two became a widespread battle between the Oltenians and the imperial soldiers. Seeing that they did not get away with the Oltenians, the soldiers fled and hid in the garrison near the headquarters. Not long after that, a lot of Craiovenians gathered at the gate of the garrison with forks and axes in hand, asking for Lorincz. Finding the commander of the Austrian army that he violated the soldier’s military conduct, he punished him by sending him to prison. But even so he could not calm the furious crowd, who wanted to do hits own justice. After a few hours of siege on the garrison, the Craiovenians set fire to it, and all 375 Austrian soldiers died in the fire.

Finding out about these events that took place in Oltenia, the Vienna court ordered the Austrian troops to withdraw from the region and set up a body of local troops to capture the outlaws and help them retain their authority in the area. In 1734, most of the Austrian army withdrew, leaving the place of an army of mercenaries employed among the Oltenian men, called pandurs, led by Neagu Papură. What the Austrians did not realize was that, like Neagu Papură, many outlaws joined the pandours’ lists, choosing to receive the salary without moving a finger, while some of them still managed to act in the outlaw at the same time. Basically, the Habsburg Empire paid some Oltenian outlaws to catch themselves or other outlaws, without any arrest for two years.

When the Austrians realized that their idea was fruitless, they stopped paying the pandours. They rebelled and attacked Craiova, killing representatives of the administration left in the city and plundering the houses of the boyars who sympathized with the Austrians. According to the legend, it was the drop that filled the glass! After this attack, the Austrians decided to leave Oltenia permanently. Bearing in mind, however, that there was no one else here to take over the political or military reins of the region, after the Austrians left, a power vacuum was created. For several months, Oltenia was in anarchy, the number of violence increasing considerably.

At the intervention of the boyars remaining in Craiova, the former outlaw and pandour Neagu Papură was charged with restoring the order. Neither did he remain at the forefront of the army, after a few months being replaced by boyars and again taking the road to the forests and outlaw.

After the short “reign” of what became known as Papură-Vodă in the people, Oltenia remained an almost independent region for 35 years. Abandoned by the Austrians in 1735, it could not be claimed either by the Romanian Country (because, according to international treaties, it still belonged to the Habsburg Empire), nor by the Ottoman Empire (which, on the brink of a new war with the Turks and Austrians, had never sought again to extend its borders).

Legend says that this period would have been one of the most prolific in the region’s history, because, in the absence of a ruler collecting taxes, the population prospered. Although there was no system of laws, nor many wrongdoings were committed, being known that the outlaws were on the side of the people, defending it. Any problem formerly solved by the judgment now ended by consent. In this quite relaxed historical context it was beneficial, then many houses and churches were built and numerous craft workshops were opened.



·                    Constantin C. Giurescu, “History of Romania in data”. The Romanian Encyclopedic Publishing House, 1971

·                    Costel Crangan, “Where does the expression “Country of Papura Voda” comes from? Two completely different historical moments created the meaning known today, 26 March 2018,

·                    Daniel Roxin, “The amazing story behind the expression “The country of Papura Voda”, 20 May 2016,

·                    “The Country of Papura Voda – the meaning and origin of the expression”, 26 March  2018,

·                    “The Country of Papura Voda, in the time of Pazvante Chioru”, July 6, 2014,