Brief History of Romania

Ancient Romania was inhabited by Thracian tribes. The Greeks called them Getae, the Romans called them Dacians, but they were actually a single Geto-Dacian People. From the 7th century BC the Greeks established trading colonies along the Black Sea at Callatis (Mangalia), Tomis (Constanta) and Histria. In the 1st century BC, a Dacian state was established to meet the Roman threat. The last king, Decebalus, consolidated this state but was unable to prevent the Roman conquest in 105-6 AD.

The Romans recorded their expansion north of the Danube on two famous monuments: Trajani's Column in Rome and the 'Tropaeum Trajani' on the site of their victory at Adamclisi in Dobrogea. Most of present Romania , including the Transylvanian plateau, came under their rule. The slave-owning Romans brought with them a superior civilisation and mixed with the conquered tribes to form a Daco-Roman people speaking a Latin tongue. A noted visitor during the Roman period was the Latin poet Ovid, who was exiled to the Black Sea by the Emperor Augustus.

Faced with Goth attacks in 271, Emperor Aurelian decided to withdraw the Roman legions and administration south of the Danube, but the Romanised Valach peasants remained in Dacia. Waves of migrating peoples, including the Goths, Huns, Avars, Slavs, Bulgars and Hungarians, swept across this territory from the 4th to 10th centuries. The Romanians survived in village communities and gradually assimilated the Slavs and other peoples who settled there. By the 10th century a fragmented feudal system ruled by a military class had appeared.

From the 10th century the Hungarians expanded into Transylvania, north and west of the Carpathian Mountains. By the 13th century all of Transylvania was an autonomous principality under the Hungarian crown, although Romanians remained a majority of the population. After devastating Tatar raids in 1241 and 1242, King Bela IV of Hungary invited Saxon Germans to settle in Transylvania as a buffer against further attacks.

When the Turks conquered Hungary in the 16th century, Transylvania became a vasal of the Ottoman Empire, retaining its autonomy by paying tribute to the sultan. This semi-independence meant that Catholicism was not reimposed as it was in the areas under Habsburg control and many of the Hungarians and Germans in Transylvania converted from Catholicism to Protestantism in the 16th century. The Austrian Habsburgs conquered Transylvania at the end of the 17th century and suppressed an independence struggle led by the Transylvanian prince Ferenc Rakoczi II from 1703-1711.

The Romanian-speaking feudal principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia appeared south and east of the Carpatian Mountains in the 14th century. Throughout the 15th century they offered strong resistance to Turkish expansion north. Mircea the Old, Vlad Tepes and Stefan the Great became legendary figures in this struggle. Vlad Tepes 'the Impaler', ruling prince of Wallachia from 1456-62 and 1476-77, inspired the tale of Count Dracula by his habit of impaling his enemies on stakes. (The vampires originated in the imagination of 19th century Irish novelist Bram Stoker.)

Wallachia and Moldova also paid tribute to the Turks but maintained their autonomy. This indirect control explains why no Turkish buildings are seen in Romania today, except in Dobrogea, the area between the Danube and the Black Sea. In 1600 the three Romanian states were briefly united under Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul) at Alba Iulia. There were major peasant uprisings in 1437, 1514 and 1784. In 1812 Russia took Bessarabia, the eastern half of Moldavia, from the Turks.

Turkish suzeranity persisted in Wallachia and the rest of Moldavia well into the 19th century despite unsuccessful revolutions in 1821 and 1848. After the Russian defeat in the Crimean War (1853-56), Romanian nationalism grew, and in 1859, with French support, Alexandru Ioan Cuza was elected to the thrones of Moldavia and Wallachia, creating a national state which took the name Romania in 1862. The reform-minded Cuza was forced to abdicate in 1866 and his place was taken by the Prussian Prince Carol I. With Russian assistance, Romania declared independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1877. After the 1877-78 War of Independence, Dobrogea became part of Romania.

In 1916 Romania entered WW I on the side of the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia). The objective was to re-unite with Transylvania, where two-thirds of the population was Romanian. During the fighting, the Central Powers occupied Wallachia but Moldova was staunchly defended by Romanian and Russian troops. With the defeat of Austria-Hungary in 1918, the unification of Banat, Transylvania and Bukovina with Romania was finally achieved.

In the years leading up to WW II, Romania, under the able guidance of foreign minister Nicolae Titulescu, sought security in an alliance with France, Britain and the Little Entente (Romania, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia). It signed a Balcan Pact with Yugoslavia, Turkey and Greece, and established diplomatic relations with USSR. These efforts were weakened by the Western powers' appeasement of Hitler and by King Carol II, who declared a personal dictatorship in February 1938. After the fall of France in May 1940, Romania was isolated. In June 1940 the USSR occupied Bessarabia (now Republic of Moldova). Then on 30 August 1940, Romania was forced to cede northern Transylvania, which covers 43,500 sq km, and 2,600,000 inhabitants to Hungary by order of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. In September 1940 southern Dobrogea was given to Bulgaria.

These setbacks sparked widespread popular demonstrations. To defend the interests of the ruling classes, General Ion Antonescu forced Carol II to abdicate in favour of his son Michael and imposed a fascist dictatorship with himself as conducator (leader). German troops were allowed to enter Romania in October 1940. In June 1941 Antonescu joined Hitler's anti-Soviet war.

Deep-seated anti-Nazi resentment smouldered among the Romanian soldiers and people. As the war went badly and the Soviet army approached Romania's borders, a rare national consensus was achieved. On 23 August 1944 Romania suddently changed sides, captured 53,159 German soldiers who were in Romania at the time, and declared war on Nazi Germany. By this dramatic act, Romania salvaged its independence and shortened the war. By 25 October the Romanian and Soviet armies had driven the Hungarian and German forces from Transylvania. The Romanian army went on to fight in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Appaling losses were sustaine: half a million Romanian soldiers died while their country was on the Axis side (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Japan) and another 170,000 died after it joined the Allies.

Information from "Eastern Europe on a Shoestring" by David Stanley, 2nd Edition, Lonely Planet Publications, ISBN 0 86442 116 8;
David Stanley 1991

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