The territory that is now Romania first appeared in history as Dacia. Most of its inhabitants were originally from the region of Thrace, in Greece; they were called Getae by the Greeks, and later, by the Romans, they were known as Dacians. Between 101 and 106 AD Dacia was conquered by the Roman emperor Trajan and incorporated into the Roman Empire as a province. Roman colonists were sent into Dacia, and Rome developed the region considerably, building roads, bridges, and a great wall that stretched from what is today the Black Sea port of Constanta across the region of Dobruja to the Danube River.
In the middle part of the 3rd century the Goths drove the Romans out of much of Dacia. In about 270 the Roman Emperor Lucius Domitius Aurelian decided to withdraw the Roman legions and colonies to an area south of the Danube; some Roman civilians chose to stay, however. Under the influence of the Romans, the people of Dacia adopted the Latin language.
For the next thousand years, the Daco-Roman people were subjected to successive invasions by the Huns, Avars, Slavs, and Bulgars. Slavs brought Christianity to the region in the 4th century, and through intermarriage and assimilation, changed the ethnic balance in Romania. Its inhabitants developed into a distinct ethnic group, known as the Vlachs, a name designating Latin-speakers of the Balkan Peninsula.
In 1003 King Stephen I of Hungary established control over most of the region of Transylvania in what is now central and northwestern Romania. In the 13th century King Béla IV of Hungary brought Saxons and other Germanic tribes into Transylvania to strengthen Hungary’s position there. In the middle of the 13th century Hungarian expansion drove many Vlachs to settle south and east of the Carpathian Mountains. There they established the principality of Walachia, and later that of Moldavia. Each was ruled by a succession of voivodes (native princes), who were generally under the authority of either Hungary or Poland. Until the 19th century the history of Romania was that of the separate principalities of Moldavia , Walachia and Transylvania.
During the 13th and 14th centuries, Walachia was involved in frequent struggles against Hungary. In the 15th century the rulers of the Ottoman Empire began to extend their conquests northward. Walachia was forced to capitulate to the Ottomans, although its leadership, territory, and religion were not changed. Direct Ottoman rule was not felt in Walachia until after the Ottomans defeated the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohács in 1526.
At the end of the 16th century, a Walachian voivode, Michael the Brave, led a revolt against the Ottomans and succeeded in bringing Walachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania under his rule for a very brief period. Michael is the national hero of Romania for his part in this uprising and for being the first to combine the three territories that were to form Romania. After Michael’s defeat and death in 1601, the Hungarians ruled over Transylvania and the Ottomans regained control of Moldavia and Walachia. Until 1821 the ruling families were often of Greek origin. Known as hospodars, they were chosen from the Phanar district of Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) by the Ottoman sultan. The period of Phanariot rule was one of the most oppressive and corrupt in Romanian history. Exploitation of the peasants caused mass starvation and emigration.
The history of Moldavia followed a course similar to that of Walachia. The Moldavians were subjected first to Hungarian and then to Polish rule before the Ottomans established a firm hold over the region shortly after their conquest of Walachia. The reign of Moldavia’s national hero Stephen the Great, which lasted from 1457 until 1504, was marked by futile attempts to gain united support from Poland, Hungary, and Venice against the Ottomans. As in Walachia, the Ottomans introduced Phanariot rule, with the same disastrous results.
By the early 1700s the power of the Ottoman Empire was declining. In the later 18th century Catherine the Great of Russia, who had sought Romanian support against the Ottomans, declared Russia the protector of all Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire and brought Moldavia and Walachia under Russia’s sphere of influence. In 1821 Tudor Vladimirescu, a Romanian officer in the Russian army, led a nationalist revolt resulting in the replacement of Phanariot rule with that of native Romanian princes in Moldavia and Walachia. However, Russia obtained concessions in Romania as a result of the Russo-Turkish wars. By the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest (1812), Russia annexed the region of Bessarabiya from Moldavia. The Treaty of Adrianople (1829) gave Russia a virtual protectorate over Moldavia and Walachia. A Russian-sponsored constitution gave power to the native princes and landowners of Moldavia and Walachia. Creation of the same governmental structure for both principalities facilitated their later union.
The Struggle for Independence
By the mid-1800s a unification movement had gathered strength in Moldavia and Walachia. The movement produced local uprisings that were suppressed by the combined action of Ottoman and Russian troops. The Treaty of Paris of 1856, which ended the Crimean War between the Ottoman Empire and Russia, established Moldavia and Walachia as principalities that would continue to pay tribute to the Ottoman Empire. Russia was obliged to return southern Bessarabiya to Moldavia. In 1857 the councils of Moldavia and Walachia voted for union under the name Romania, with a hereditary prince, autonomy, and neutrality. Alexandru Ion Cuza was elected prince in January 1859.
In May 1864 a new constitution of Romania was adopted, establishing a bicameral national legislature. In the same year, Prince Alexandru Ion I freed the peasants from their feudal burdens. His attempts at reform led to his removal by local landowners in 1866. A German prince, under the name of Carol I, was elected to replace him, and a new constitution gave Carol veto power over all legislation. The long period of Carol’s reign (prince, 1866-1881; king, 1881-1914) saw great economic expansion but few political rights for the Romanian people. The last traces of Ottoman rule, which had lasted for nearly 500 years, finally disappeared as a result of a Russian-Romanian victory over the Ottomans in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 and 1878.
The Kingdom of Romania
The full independence of Romania was recognized in 1878 by the Congress of Berlin, which also restored southern Bessarabiya to Russia. As compensation, Romania accepted northern Dobruja from Bulgaria. Carol I was crowned king on May 22, 1881, and won the recognition of the major European powers.
Political corruption, continual foreign intervention, and the need for land reform continued. Two Balkan Wars, arising from the collapse of Ottoman power in Europe, were fought in 1912 and 1913. Romania entered the second Balkan War and annexed the southern part of Dobruja from Bulgaria. King Carol died in 1914 and was succeeded by his nephew, Ferdinand I.
When World War I broke out in 1914, Romania declared a policy of armed neutrality. However, in August 1916, Romania joined the Allies in their fight against the Central Powers, chiefly Austria-Hungary and Germany. Romania hoped to gain several provinces of Austria-Hungary that had large Romanian populations. The Allies won the war in 1918, and as part of the peace settlement, Romania acquired Transylvania, part of the Banat, and the Crisana-Maramures region from Hungary, Bukovina from Austria, and Bessarabiya from Russia. Romania emerged from the war having almost doubled its area and population.
During the 1920s, Romania had a parliamentary regime and a prosperous economy. Land reform broke up many large estates. However, friction between ethnic minorities, many of them living in territories ceded to Romania after World War I, caused instability. King Ferdinand’s reign ended with his death in 1927, but his son, Crown Prince Carol, renounced the throne in favor of his own son Michael.
The Rise of Fascism
After 1929, Romania was engulfed in the general world economic crisis. Large-scale unemployment and political unrest led to the rapid growth of fascist organizations, the most powerful of which was the violently anti-Semitic Iron Guard. Prince Carol returned in 1930 and was proclaimed King Carol II. Romania moved slowly into the sphere of influence of Nazi Germany. Rigid censorship was introduced, and the administration began to govern by decree. In 1938 Carol assumed dictatorial powers, but the new regime was not supported by the government. After the signing of the German-Soviet pact in 1939, Romania was forced to cede part of Transylvania to Hungary and to give Bessarabiya and northern Bukovina to the USSR. Southern Dobruja was returned to Bulgaria soon afterwards. Faced with the beginning of rebellion led by the Iron Guard, the king suspended Romania’s constitution and appointed General Ion Antonescu prime minister. Antonescu, backed by the Guard, demanded that King Carol abdicate in favor of the king’s son Michael, and leave the country. Antonescu then assumed dictatorial powers and became chief of state as well as president of the council of ministers.
World War II
As an ally of Germany, Romania declared war on the USSR in 1941. The Romanian army reclaimed Bessarabiya and Bukovina and advanced as far as southern Ukraine, but suffered heavy losses in the 1943 Battle of Stalingrad. When Soviet troops entered Romania in 1944, King Michael dismissed Antonescu, surrendered to the USSR, and declared war on Germany. Soviet pressure led to the creation of a left-wing government under Petru Groza in March 1945.
Romania Under Communism
By the terms of the armistice agreement, Romania lost northern Bukovina and Bessarabiya to the USSR and recovered northern Transylvania from Hungary. The agreement also limited the strength of the Romanian armed forces and stipulated that the Romanian people should enjoy all personal liberties. On December 30, 1947, the monarchy was abolished, and King Michael was forced to abdicate. The People’s Republic of Romania was then proclaimed, with a constitution similar to that of the USSR, and power passed to the Communist Party.
In 1948 and 1949 Romanian cultural and political institutions were reorganized to conform with Soviet models. This process, known as Sovietization, also included frequent purges of dissidents (political protestors). In 1949 the United States and Great Britain twice accused Romania of systematically violating the human rights provisions in the post-World War II peace treaty. In November 1950 this charge was upheld by the United Nations General Assembly. New constitutions adopted in 1952 and 1965 were both patterned after the Soviet Communist government. Throughout the postwar period Romania’s leadership remained stable. In 1952 Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, head of the Communist Party since 1945, replaced Groza as premier.
An Independent Regime
After the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1953, Romania gradually drew away from close dependence on the USSR. Gheorghiu-Dej asserted the country’s right to develop its own variety of socialism. Throughout the 1950s the government emphasized the nationalization and development of industry. This effort proved highly successful, and in the 1960s official estimates of the national industrial growth rate averaged about 12 percent annually, ranking among the highest in Eastern Europe. Agricultural collectivization began in July 1949, and in 1962 the government announced that all arable land had been absorbed into the socialized sector. Farmers were permitted, however, to retain small plots for private use.
In the early postwar years, under Soviet domination, Romania cooperated fully in such Communist organizations as Cominform, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), and after 1955, the Warsaw Pact. From the early 1960s on, however, Romania began to exercise a considerable degree of independence. In 1963 the government rejected COMECON plans for the integration of the economies of the Communist states, chiefly because the plans restricted Romania to a role as supplier of oil, grains, and primary materials. Romanians thought these plans would hinder their rate of industrial growth, which had been higher in the several years prior than that of any other Soviet-bloc country. Romanian protests gained some concessions in the form of Soviet aid for the development of a major steel plant at Galati. The rift between the USSR and China in the 1960s gave Romania new opportunities to throw off Soviet influence. A party statement in 1964 confirmed Romania’s independent policies, including closer ties with the West.
In 1965 Gheorghiu-Dej, party chief for most of 20 years, died and was succeeded by Nicolae Ceausescu. In 1967 Ceausescu also became president of the state council. He advanced Romania’s nationalist policies and renamed the country the Socialist Republic of Romania. A new constitution in 1965 downgraded the USSR’s role in Romanian history. The country did not follow the Soviet bloc in breaking diplomatic ties with Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, or in invading Czechoslovakia in 1968.
At home, the Communist government held sole power, censored the press, and restricted personal liberties. Ceausescu promoted a personality cult around himself and his family. Improved relations with China and Western Europe brought aid and new technology, and the economy grew substantially in the 1960s and 1970s.
Romania continued to pursue an independent foreign policy, despite the disapproval of the Soviet bloc. In addition, the Romanian government actively increased its contacts with the West. After a visit from United States President Richard Nixon in 1969, Ceausescu paid several visits to the United States. In 1975 the United States granted Romania most-favored-nation status, and in 1976 a ten-year economic pact was signed by the two countries. Romania joined the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) in 1972 and in 1976 signed the first formal pact (on textiles) between the European Economic Community and an Eastern European nation.
As the leader of the only Eastern European country to recognize both Israel and Egypt, Ceausescu helped to arrange Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat’s historic peacemaking visit to Israel in 1977. Romania signed a friendship treaty with the USSR in 1970, received Soviet Communist Party chief Leonid Brezhnev in 1976, and sent Ceausescu to the USSR and East Germany. Romania also signed a treaty of friendship with Hungary in 1972 and agreements on hydroelectricity with Yugoslavia in 1976 and Bulgaria in 1977. Taking an unprecedented step outside the Soviet bloc, Ceausescu visited the People’s Republic of China in 1971, subsequently signing economic and air transport agreements. In 1980 he refused to endorse the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Though diplomatic in matters of foreign policy, Ceausescu strictly enforced Communist orthodoxy in domestic affairs. In 1971 he cracked down on all deviation in party, government, and cultural leadership. He was reelected head of state in 1975, and the party and government were reorganized in 1977. Despite enormous damage caused by severe floods and an earthquake, the economy grew during the 1970s, especially heavy industry and foreign trade. However, repression, pollution, and mismanagement of agriculture gradually discredited the government. In the 1980s Ceausescu used virtually all of Romania’s foreign currency reserves to pay off the foreign debt, producing major food and fuel shortages in a country whose standard of living was already among the lowest in Europe. A forced resettlement program announced in 1988, which called for the destruction of more than 8000 villages, was also widely unpopular.
The Regime Changes
In 1989 Ceausescu’s brutal suppression of antigovernment demonstrations in Timisoara turned the army against him. He fled Bucharest with his wife Elena on December 22, 1989, but the two were soon captured. Ceausescu and his wife were charged with murder and embezzlement of government funds, and a secret trial took place. Both were found guilty and were executed on December 25. An interim body made up chiefly of former Communist officials took control of the government, and Ion Iliescu became the country’s acting president. The new government revoked many of Ceausescu’s repressive policies and imprisoned some of the leaders of his regime.
In May 1990 multiparty elections for the legislature and the presidency were held. Iliescu was elected president, and his party, the National Salvation Front (NSF), won control of the legislature. Petre Roman became Romania’s prime minister. The elections did not put a stop to the antigovernment demonstrations, which continued throughout the year, often in protest of economic conditions. Riots by miners led to the resignation of Roman’s government in September. In October former finance minister Theodor Stolojan succeeded Roman as prime minister and formed a new cabinet. An economic austerity program was introduced that month.
In December 1991 a new democratic constitution of Romania was adopted by popular referendum. Presidential and legislative elections were held in September 1992 with a runoff presidential contest in October. Iliescu was reelected president, while the Democratic National Salvation Front (DNSF), a party that emerged from the breakup of the NSF, won largest representation in the legislature and formed a coalition government. Iliescu appointed economist Nicolae Vacaroiu to head the government as prime minister. In 1993 the DNSF merged with several smaller parties and changed its name to the Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PSDR). During 1994 nationalist parties gained increasing influence in the Romanian government.
In the 1990s Romania’s foreign affairs were focused primarily on relations with Western Europe. Romania became an associate member of the European Union in 1993, and formally applied for full membership in 1995. Romania also joined the Partnership for Peace program of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1994, and is currently seeking full NATO membership.
Presidential and legislative elections held in November 1996 marked Romania’s first peaceful transfer of power. In the elections of November 3, the ruling coalition headed by the PSDR lost its majority in parliament to opposition parties. The opposition coalition, called the Democratic Convention of Romania (DCR), then joined with another opposition party, the Social Democratic Union (USD), in a governing coalition, forming Romania’s first staunchly anti-Communist majority in the legislature. The DCR’s presidential candidate, reform-minded academic Emil Constantinescu, defeated Iliescu in the runoff presidential elections held November 17. Constantinescu named a popular DCR politician, Bucharest mayor Victor Ciorbea, as the new prime minister.
The new government immediately began to implement a comprehensive plan of economic reform in an attempt to counter Romania’s seven years of lackluster progress toward a free-market economy; their intention was to move fast, and government rhetoric and legislation suggest that this may become evident. In mid-1997 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other observers remained hopeful that the new government would accelerate reform to the extent promised. By this time, many price controls had been lifted, subsidies to state-owned industries had been cut, laws had been changed to attract foreign investment, and privatization was under way. At the same time, the government was pursuing a highly publicized and rigorous campaign against crime and corruption. Constantinescu symbolically broke with former policy by lifting a ban on visits into the country by Romania’s former monarch, King Michael, who was deposed during the Communist takeover.
In mid-1997 Romania’s diplomatic relations with its neighbors improved dramatically. Efforts to reconcile centuries of distrust with Hungary brought an unprecedented visit to Romania by a Hungarian head of state, President Árpád Göncz, in late May. In early June the presidents of Ukraine and Romania signed a friendship treaty that ended a decades-old territorial dispute over a fuel-rich island located near the coasts of both countries in the Black Sea.
After some political disputes between the allied parties concerning the ways and methods of privatisation Victor Ciorbea was dismissed and a new prime minister was named in the person of Radu Vasile.
Disputes between members of Romanian Democratic Convention lead to a new change at the top of the government and Mr. Mugur Isarescu, former Governor of The National Bank of Romania, was appointed as new prime minister.
In 2000 the regime changed again and Iliescu was back to Cotroceni Palace naming Adrian Nastase as prime minster.