Romania, an overview


Material finds attest to man’s existence on present-day Romania’s territory as far back as 2 million years. The originality of the cultural areas, related to the other European pre-historical cultures, can be seen in the art of pottery (painted earthenware, clay statuettes such as the famous Thinker” of Hamangia-Cernavoda). The Tartaria clay tables (incised pictographic motifs) testify to an early archaic writing – among the first in Europe – around 4000 B.C., contemporary with the Sumerian writing.

The descendants of those ancient civilizations were the Geto-Dacians, who in the 1st century B.C. founded the powerful Kingdom of Dacia with its political and religious center at Sarmizegetusa, in present-day Transylvania. In the early 2nd century A.D., the Roman imperial armies led by Emperor Trajan conquered Dacia (A.D. 106), turned it into a Roman province and colonized it with Roman and Romanized people. Thus the Geto-Dacians got Romanized and the ethnogenesis of the Romanian people was completed in the 7th century.

Concurrently with Romanization, Christianization took place, through evangelization both by one of the apostles of Jesus, St. Andrew, and by the holy fathers that took refuge in or crossed the Romanian lands.

State organization, attested to in writing, goes back to the early 10th century, when feudal bodies politic preceding the big Romanian feudal states are documented. The pre-state bodies in Transylvania were ruled by dukes, princes or voivodes like Gelu, Glad, Menumorut, Ahtum, and by jupani or voivodes in Moldavia, Wallachia and Dobruja: Dimitrie, Gheorghe, Sestlav, Satza, Roman, a.o. (11th-12th centuries). In the 13th century, the principality of Transylvania became part of the Hungarian Crown until 1526 when the kingdom of Hungary disappeared as a state entity. In the 14th century, south of the Carpathians, Basarab I (1324-1352) unified the existing bodies politic into the Principality of Wallachia, while Bogdan I (1359-1365) founded the Principality of Moldavia.


In the late 14th century, Ottoman  expansion reached the Danube border, threatening the three Romanian Principalities, Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia that, after over two centuries of resistance, entered a period of Ottoman suzerainty, preserving however a broad autonomy. The ruling prince of Wallachia, Michael the Brave (1593-1601) regained the country’s independence and unified the Romanians within one state, the first Romanian unified state. This short-lived Union, annulled by the interventions of neighbouring empires, was possible owing to the unity of kin and language of the Romanians in the three principalities.

With the big European powers’ support, Moldavia and Wallachia got united under Alexandru Ioan Cuza on January 24, 1859. The young state gained international recognition under the name of Romania. On May 9, 1877, the Romanian State – ruled by Prince Carol (of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen), who then became King Carol I –  proclaimed its independence, shedding the Porte’s suzerainty. Independence was sanctioned on the front of the Russian-Romanian-Turkish War of 1877-1878, and was given international recognition at the Peace Congress of Berlin (1878).

Under  the 1867 compromise between the Austrians  and Hungarians, as dominant nations, known as the “Austria-Hungary new state,” the whole Principality of Transylvania, which had been under Habsburg domination, fell under Hungarian rule.

In 1775, Bukovina was torn off from the body of the Principality of Moldavia and fell under the Habsburg Empire following an understanding with the Ottoman Empire.

The eastern half of Moldavia had been annexed to Russia in 1812, being renamed Bessarabia.

Romania’s involvement in the First World War had one sole goal: to round off the national unity, Carol I’s successor, King Ferdinand I (1914-1927) being one of its advocates. The fall of the two multinational empires – the Austria-Hungary and the Tsarist ones – enabled the Romanians in Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transylvania to decide, in 1918, on their union with Romania. The post-war peace treaties (1919-1920) sanctioned the reintegration of the Romanian State.

Between the two World Wars, Romania conducted a policy defending the world’s new organization, and acted so as to thwart the revanchist tendencies aimed at revising peace treaties and frontiers – first manifested by Horthy Hungary and Nazi Germany, then by Soviet Russia. In the summer of 1940, Soviet Russia, Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy forced Romania to cede the following territories: Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Hertza to Russia; northern Transylvania to Hungary; the Quadrilateral (southern Dobruja) to Bulgaria. That accounted for over one quarter of Romania’s territory and of the majority Romanian population.

The political regime in Romania was replaced in 1940 with a dictatorship, initially fascist and then military, and the country entered the war against the USSR (June 1941), on Germany’s side. The Romanian armies fought on the Eastern Front until the summer of 1944 and then, following the coup of August 23, they joined the Allies and fought on the Western Front, helping to the liberate Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria. The Paris Peace Treaty (1947) brought northern Transylvania back within the boundaries of Romania. Moreover, Romania was maintained in the Soviet sphere of influence, and the communist regime was forced upon it.  There followed the Sovietization of the country and repression of those who represented true democracy. The danger of seeing Romania turned into a source of raw materials and even dismembered  made the communist leadership of Romania  try to put an end to the Soviet hegemony.   

Meanwhile, Nicolae Ceauşescu’s and his wife’s personality cult and the communist dictatorship regime led to a severe political and economic crisis. Several social revolts were recorded. Between 17-20 December 1989, big anticommunist rallies took place in Timişoara and on 21 December 1989, powerful unrest shook Bucharest. Hundreds of thousands of Bucharesters flooded the streets, occupied the main official buildings  and chased the dictator.

The communist structures were dismantled, the foundations of a democratic society were laid, and the switch was made to the market economy. In a relatively short period, the historical political parties (the National Peasant Party, the National Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party) were revived, new parties were created and free elections were held. A new Constitution of Romania was passed and then amended, based on the standards of Western democracies.

Romania is a member of NATO (since 2004) and of the European Union (since January 1, 2007).

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