Romanians see themselves as descendants of the Dacians, who lived in the Carpathians Mountains and the Transylvania Plateau over 2 millennia ago, and the Romans who conquered most of these regions at the beginning of the 1st century AD. From this shared ancestry and passing through many major migratory influences, the most important being the Slavic element, the Romanian nation was born. Withstanding almost impossible odds and always fighting to keep their lands and identity, Romania today is a modern and developing country.
Romania in Prehistorical times
Earliest Human Habitation of Europe
Some of the oldest traces of human habitation on the continent were discovered back in 2002 in the Cave with Bones close to the town of Anina in Romania. These remains had features of both Homo Sapiens and Neanderthal people. They were considered the earliest modern humans in Europe before the later discoveries in Italy and the UK.
NEW Migration Theory
The cranium of a woman was discovered in Muierii Cave of Romania, with both modern human and Neanderthal features. Upon scientific DNA research, it was determined that the skull was uncommon for Eurasia, belonging to populations of north-western Africa, completely reshaping the human migration theory.
Developed in the Dobruja region of Romania and Bulgaria along the coast of the Black Sea, it was absorbed by the Boian Culture, later transitioning into the Gumelnița Culture. It displayed intricate ceramics and human figurines, the most famous being “The Thinker” and the “Sitting Woman”, masterpieces of Neolithic art, discovered in Cernavodă.
Also known as the Cucuteni – Trypillia culture, it was one of the oldest civilizations in Europe, developed on the territory of eastern Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. It preceded the cultures of Ancient Egypt and Sumer, with various richly decorated ceramic pieces discovered throughout Romania. It is quite unique for Europe, with certain resemblances to the Chinese Neolithic culture.
Other Prehistoric Cultures
The territory of Romania had many other prehistoric cultures and sub-cultures, with numerous archaeological finds from every age, including ceramics, tools and settlements. This proves the continual habitation of these lands and the development across millennia. Other important cultures include Cris-Starcevo, Vincea-Turdaș, Boian, Petrești, Gumelnița.
Dacian Kingdom and Roman Conquest
HERODOTUS ABOUT THE DACIANS
The earliest written record of the Dacian civilization comes from Herodotus, the famous Greek historian. He describes the Dacians as related to the Getae who spoke the same language and were a branch of the Thracians who inhabited the Balkans. At first, there were many smaller tribes that at times came together through alliances against common enemies.
The first great Dacian Empire appeared under the King called Burebista, at which time its territory spanned between the Danube, Tisza and Dniester rivers, roughly over modern Romania, Moldova and parts of neighboring countries. The kingdom became so powerful that it threatened the influence of Rome in the area. Before beginning a war between the two, both emperor Caesar and king Burebista were assassinated during the same year.
After Burebista, de Dacian Kingdom was divided among smaller parts, up until the end of the first century when King Decebalus once again united all the tribes over a huge area centered inside the Carpathians. In the year 87, six Roman legions of Emperor Domitian were sent north of the Danube and were defeated by the Dacians led by Decebalus at Tapae.
Wars with Rome
Fearing the power of the rising Dacian Kingdom, Emperor Trajan started a first military campaign in 101-102, defeating the Dacians at Tapae and forcing them to ask for peace. The peace treaty that was extremely unfavourable for the Dacians lasted for few years. Trajan attacked again in 105 and 106, finally taking the Dacian capital of Sarmizegetusa. Not wanting to be taken prisoner and paraded through Rome, king Decebalus killed himself. They held the biggest festival in Rome (123 days) and Trajan’s Column was built to honor the victory.
The Romans built a new capital also called Sarmizegetusa and divided the former Dacian Kingdom into several provinces, although only about half were actually occupied. Several tribes of free Dacians remained outside, although they were also influenced by Roman culture. The occupation only lasted for nearly two centuries, until of emperor Aurelian started to retreat south of the Danube for better defense against migratory tribes. However, the local Dacian population had already mixed with the Romans, adopted some of their traditions and language.
The Middle Ages
Early Middle Ages
After the retreat of the Romans, for about a century the territory of today’s Romania was split up into various provinces and consecutive waves of migratory populations passed trough the region, some having greater influence over the native people than others, some also establishing some settlements. Amongst others, the Goths, Gepids, Huns, Avars and Slavs arrived in the area. The latter had the greater influence over the culture and language of the native people, that will ultimately conclude with the establishment of the Romanian people.
The Romanian Language
The Proto-Romanian language evolved from Vulgar Latin spoken in the occupied provinces of Dacia. The developed language retained some Dacian words and later incorporated many words from the Slavic language. There are few written sources to attest the emergence and development of the early Romanian language,
The Mongol Invasion
Although lasting for only one year, the Mongol invasion had huge effects on Eastern Europe, with many towns and villages being sacked or completely destroyed, including in the territory of what is now Romania.
THe Romanian Principalities
Before the apparition of the principalities, the territory of today’s Romania was divided into so-called countries, or lands. These were formed around certain geographical areas or stronger medieval towns and today have unique ethnographical features. Some of them were known as cnezate (from the slavic word knyaz – a sort of prince), later developing into voievodate (from the word voivode – ruler). The best known medieval countries that can still be found today in Romania were Făgăraș, Moților, Bârsei, Lotrului, Vrancei, Dornei and others. The principalities appeared at different times in history, Transylvania first as a voivodeship under the rule of the Hungarian Kingdom, followed by the principalities of Walachia and Moldavia, divided into certain lands and areas.
The voivodeship of Transylvania was first mentioned during the second half of the 12th century, being conquered by the Hungarian Kingdom and becoming its vassal. Its rulers and nobility were Hungarian, Saxon and Szekely, while the peasant population was mainly Romanian. To further grow their influence in the area, the Hungarian rulers brought in the area Hungarian, Saxon and Szekely colonists that established many villages and towns. The historical voivodeship only includes the Ardeal region between the Carpathians, but modern Transylvania also includes the regions of Banat, Crișana and Maramureș, which had slightly different history.
Historically known as Țara Românească in Romania, the principality of Walachia appeared by the end of 13th and beginning of 14th century, when the rulers of smaller territories sought to create a independent state, achieving it inthe year 1330, when the voivode Basarab I defeated the Hungarian army led by king Carol Robert of Anjou himself at the Battle of Posada. At those times, Walachia included the regions of Muntenia and Oltenia, Dobruja being a separate entity. It was united with Walachia for a brief period, being conquered by the Ottomans in 1418. One of the first great rulers of Walachia was Mircea the Elder, who reigned two times between 1386 and 1418. He acquired new territories and defeated the Ottomans several times, including the great battle of Rovine, when he fought against sultan Bayezid I and an army several times larger. Another famous medieval ruler of Walachia was Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Țepeș), who was voivode for three periods between 1448 and 1477. He was known as ruthless ruler, but also a great military leader.
The principality of Moldavia was first mentioned in 1359 as located between the Carpathians to the west and the Dniester river to the east. It was divided into the Upper the Lower countries, these also including various lands. The first ruler of Moldavia was Bogdan I, who came from Maramureș and declared its independency. The most famous ruler was Ștefan the Great (1454-1504) who successfully defended the country against the Ottomans and other enemies. The total number of battles he fought is believed to be 36, of which he won 34, many times against far greater armies. He also established many fortresses, towns and monasteries. The historical principality of Moldavia included Bessarabia (today Republic of Moldova) and Bukovina (parts of which are in Ukraine today).
One of the biggest historical characters of 15th century was John Hunyadi (Ioan de Huneodara), one of the greatest European military and political leaders of his time. Having Romanian ancestors, he was first appointed voivode of Transylvania, achieving many victories against the Ottoman Empire. His most famous achievement was in the Battle of Belgrade (1456), when he defended the city against the Ottomans led by the sultan himself. This feat earned him the reputation as the Champion of Christ.
Union of MICHAEL THE BRAVE
The greatest ruler during medieval times was Michael the Brave (1558-1601), who took the throne of Walachia, before defeating the Ottomans at Călugăreni. He then passed into Transylvania and defeated the Hungarian army at Șelimbăr in 1600, then invaded Moldavia and established himself as “Prince of Walachia, Transylvania and Moldavia”. Unfortunately, his rule only lasted for a few months. After his assassination, Transylvania fell under Hungarian control, while Walachia and Moldavia under Ottoman influence.
Early Modern Times
OTTOMAN, RUSSIAN and Habsburg EMPIRES
After the brief Union of the Romanian Principalities of 1600 by Michael the Brave, they were divided and fell under the influence of the Ottoman Empire (Walachia and Moldavia), the Russian Empire (Moldavia mainly) and the Habsburg Empire (Transylvania). There were many wars and brief periods of sovereignty, always at the crossroad of great powers.
One of the most renowned rulers of Walachia was prince Constantin Brâncoveanu, who brought many cultural developments to the principality, including a unique architectural style that is still known as brâncovenesc, which can be admired in many monasteries and palaces. He met a tragic fate, being brought to the Ottoman sultan in Constantinople. Refusing to convert to Islam, he was beheaded after first seeing his four sons also being killed in front of him. They were all sanctified in 2012 by the Romanian Orthodox Church.
The Phanariot Rule
After the defeat of the Russian and Moldavian armies by the Ottomans, a treaty was signed in 1711 at Prut with drastic terms that included the obligation of Ottoman rulers imposed in Moldavia and Walachia. They were called Phanariotes as they were Greek noblemen from the quarter of Fener in Constantinople. This was one of the darkest periods in history for the principalities, as the sole purpose of most rulers was to get rich by exploiting the lands. The Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774 further amplified the tragedy, with many battles fought on Romanian lands. The Habsburgs occupied Bucovina region in 1775, while a new war broke a decade later between the Ottomans on one side and Russian and Austrian Empires on the other. The third war started at the beginning of 19th century, with the Treaty of Bucharest ceding the eastern part of Moldavia (Bessarabia) to the Russians.
THE Habsburg Rule of Transylvania
By the end of 17th century, Transylvania fell completely under the rule of the Austrian Empire led by the Habsburg dynasty. The majority Romanian population were in no better shape than under Ottoman rule, with most Romanians being peasants and serfs, without any political or economical rights. The several attempts of rebellion were crushed in force, including the great Revolt of Horea, Cloșca and Crișan in 1784, who led the Romanian serfs and attacked castles and manors, killing over 100 nobles. Although the revolt was quickly subdued by imperial forces and the leaders were tortured to death publicly, a few reforms were adopted.
Revolution of Tudor Vladimirescu
Fed up with the Phanariot rule of the Romanian principalities of Walachia and Moldavia, the people started to look for a change and this was ignited by the Revolution of Tudor Vladimirescu, a Romanian hero who started the revolt from his native Gorj County in the beginning of 2021. He formed a Pandur militia and issued a Proclamation that included a set of progressist demands. His forces grew as he marched towards Bucharest and occupied the city. Sadly, he quickly lost the support of the local noblemen and of the Eteria (secret organization for the liberation of Greece from Ottoman rule). Prince Tudor, as he was known, was assassinated by the end of May 1821, bringing an end to his Revolution. However, the movement brought certain changes, the main one being the reinstitution of local rulers for the Romanian principalities. It was the spark that started the national awakening of Romania.
NATIONAL AWAKENING OF ROMANIA
The ROmanian Principalities Revolutions
During the Spring of 1848, there were many revolutions throughout Europe, with Walachia, Moldavia and Transylvania also taking part in this massive revolutionary wave. These sought the independence of the Romanian principalities and the national emancipation in Transylvania. Led by intellectuals and political leaders, the revolutions had a large expansion, but they were nevertheless crushed by foreign intervention and internal conflicts. Nevertheless, the principles of Romanian unity and independence were already aflame in the minds and souls of the people.
The First Union of Walachia and Moldavia
Also known as the Little Union of Romania, it was achieved peacefully after the Paris Convention of 1858, where the great European powers accepted a union between the Romanian principalities. At the beginning of 1859, the colonel Alexandru Ioan Cuza was elected first as the ruler of Moldavia and a few weeks later as the ruler of Walachia. The administrative and constitutional union was achieved in 1862 when Romania became an official state. Cuza adopted a series modern reforms in many areas, including agrarian, education, justice and more. Transylvania was still under the Austro-Hungarian rule, although the national conscience was ever more powerful.
Romanian War of Independence
The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 was a great moment for Romania to seek complete independence from the Ottoman Empire. Romania signed a treaty with Russia and proceeded to cross the Danube, attacking the Ottoman fortresses. The combined Romanian and Russian forces won the battles of Rahova, Grivița, Plevna, Vidin and Smârdan, determining the sultan to request an armistice. The independence was recognized in July 1878, but Russia soon began territorial disputes with Romania over regions in eastern and southern Moldavia.
The Romanian Kingdom
In March of 1881, the prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was crowned as the fist king of Romania under the name of Carol I. This started the Romanian royal family that ended in 1947 with the abdication of King Michael I. Carol I or Romania also ruled as prince between 1866 and 1881 after the overthrow of Alexandru Ioan Cuza. The industry and infrastructure of Romania were greatly developed during his reign, with many other improvements in all areas. He had no male heirs and the new king became Ferdinand I, the second son of his brother Leopold.
First World War in Romania
After the death of Carol I, his nephew Ferdinand I became the second king of Romania. Up to August 1916, Romania was a neutral country and entered the war against the Triple Alliance after an ultimatum and determined to gain Transylvania that had a large Romanian population. Although it had signed a secret agreement to be part of the Triple Alliance, Ferdinand entered the war against his native country. Romania was allied with Russia, Great Britain and France against Germany, Austro-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria. After a few victories, the outnumbered Romanian with some Russian aids where pushed back by the German troops sent to aid Austro-Hungary and Bulgaria. Romania was reduced to a part of Moldavia, where it withheld the defensive lines through major victories at Mărăști, Mărășești and Oituz. After Russia left the war after the October Revolution, Romania was left surrounded by enemies and agreed to a peace treaty. However, King Ferdinand I refused to sign it and in 1918, just one day before the final capitulation of the Triple Alliance, it re-entered the war.
The Great Union
Following the victory of the Triple Entente, Romania remained at war with Hungary after the representatives of Bucovina and Transylvania decided the Union with the Kingdom of Romania, achieved at the city of Alba Iulia, on December 1st, 1918 which became the National Day of Romania. Everything ended in August 1919, when the Romanian forces entered Budapest and in December, the new Romanian Parliament ratified the union laws. A great importance during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 had the presence of Marie, Queen of Romania, who personally represented the kingdom and determined the great powers of Europe to recognize the Great Union of Romania.
Despite the deep effects of the war, Romania managed to rebound rather quickly and become a veritable industrial and agrarian power in Europe of those times. There were many improvements in various areas of society, while the country had its greatest territorial extent between the wars, including the regions of Bessarabia (now Republic of Moldova), northern Bucovina (now in Ukraine) and southern Dobruja (now in Bulgaria). In 1927, king Ferdinand I died and as his son prince Carol renounced his throne, the king becomes his grandson Michael, only four years old at the time. Carol later changed his mind and returned to proclaim himself king. However, prior to the start of the Second World War, the political climate in Romania had already degenerated.
The Second World War
During the autumn of 1939, Russia stipulates its interest over Bessarabia through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. One week later Germany attacks Poland and the Second World War begins. In Romania, king Carol II is forced to abdicate and Michael I assumes the position, although dictatorial powers were granted to marshal Ion Antonescu. Without being aware of the secret pact between Germany and Russia, while also determined by the fall of France, Romania joined the Axis powers on September 27th, 1940. Romania had one of the greatest armies of the Axis in Europe after Germany and arguably Italy, having a great impact on the Eastern offensive against the Soviet Union. The tides later turned and while being bombed by the Allies and invaded by the Soviets, Romania changed sides after king Michael I organized a coup and removed the regime of Antonescu. Despite fighting with the Allies for the rest of the war, Romania lost many territories in the end, but it kept Transylvania from Hungary.
Communism in ROmania
After the War and following the Soviet occupation, Romania saw an increase in communist sympathy, leading to the abdication of king Michael I in 1947 and the creation of the People’s Republic of Romania. Its resourced were sourced to the Soviet Union and great reparations were paid, but following a certain need of independence, the Soviets finally retreated all their troops in 1958. In the later decades, Romanian economy started to grow again, although there were many social tragedies, including the persecution of anti-communist resistance, systematization and rationing, among others. During the 60s and 70s, Nicolae Ceaușescu rose through the ranks of the Communist Party, becoming the president of the Socialist Republic of Romania in 1974. The unique political party controlled every part of society, including the daily life of Romanians. Although Ceaușescu began to forge relationships with the West and furthered Romania from the Soviet Union, also making large-scale progresses in economy, education, health and other areas. Nevertheless, the harsh austerity of the 80s and other internal or external factors determined the end of the communist era in December of 1989, after the fall of other communist regimes.
The Romanian Revolution
The first signs of social unrest were a lot older than 1989, although they were crushed in force, like the riot of Brașov in 1987. The protests of 1989 started on the 16th of December in the city of Timișoara, with chaos ensuing the following days after the army opened fire on the civilian protesters, killing about 100 people. During the next days, protests emerged in several big cities of Romania, culminating in December 21st, when Ceaușescu gave a speech from the balcony of the Central Committee. It quickly turned into chaos as protesters began booing him. In the following hours, fighting began between the military and the protesters, with about 1100 people loosing their life. Ceasușescu tried to flee in a helicopter but were stranded in Târgoviște, where they were captured and killed by a firing squad on Christmas Day, after a quick trial.
During the last three decades, Romania passed through radical changes and although many times battling the ghosts of the past, high corruption and many other problems, it has made significant progress into becoming a modern and developed country. Romania joined the NATO coalition in 2004 and finally became a full member of the European Union in 2007. Nevertheless, the economical problems determined many Romanians to leave the country searching for work in Italy, Spain, Germany or the UK. During the last years, some positive developments have become visible and Romania seems to be be on the right track.