Brief History of Romania
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.
from "Eastern Europe on a Shoestring" by David Stanley, 2nd Edition,
Lonely Planet Publications, ISBN 0 86442 116 8;
© David Stanley 1991