History of Romania

If you’d like to discover more about the history of Romania, check our tours on www.uncover-romania-tours.com

The history of Romania is eventful and deeply connected with its geographical position on the continent, at the crossroads of great historical empires. In fact, Romania is one of the best places in Europe to discover and understand the history of the entire continent, from the expansion of the Roman Empire to migrant tribes invasions, from the wars against the Ottoman Empire that threatened to conquer Christianity to the self-determination movements from the 19th century. Romania was in the first line on the eastern fronts of the two world wars and was transformed into a communist state for more than four decades.

From ancient Dacians to medieval crusades

The territory of modern-day Romania was inhabited in ancient times by the Dacians, mentioned in the historical sources of the time for their bravery. Under the rule of Burebista (82 BC-44 BC), the Dacian Kingdom became a powerful regional force that, however, did not escape the interests of the Roman Empire that needed its vast underground resources to finance its budgets. During the time of Emperor Traian, the Romans conquered and occupied Dacia at the end of two wars in 101 and 106 AD.

Sarmizegetusa Regia

The Romans colonized partially the territory of future Romania and the Roman army was stationed here until the 4th century AD. The mixed Dacian-Roman families that appeared after the war stand at the base of the official theory regarding the origins of Romanian people. In the few centuries of Roman occupation, Latin became the main language used by the locals who also embraced Roman administration and the Roman law.

To find out more about the ancient history of Romania, visit the National Museum of History from Bucharest or the history museums from Deva and Sarmizegetusa. The ruins of the Dacian capital — Sarmizegetusa Regia — and the Dacian fortifications are included in the UNESCO Heritage Sites of Romania. Nearby you can also visit the ruins of the Roman capital from Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa.

Ulpia Traiana Sarmisegetuza

The expansion of the Ottoman Empire

After centuries of migratory tribes invasions that followed the decay of the Roman Empire, the Romanian historical provinces — Transylvania, Southern Romania, Moldavia, Dobrogea — appeared as distinct and independent regions starting with the 13th century. The only exception was Transylvania, conquered by the Hungarian Kingdom in the 11th century. The independence of the Romanian provinces was short-lived, however, because of the expansion of the Ottoman Empire that threatened to conquer everything on its way to Central Europe. Following the siege and fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman menace was greater than ever for the Romanian provinces.

Poenari fortress

After numerous wars and immense destruction, by the end of the 15th century, local princes accepted the suzerainty of the Sultan translated into annual payments in exchange for autonomy. While the Romanian provinces were never part of the Ottoman Empire, except Dobrogea and Transylvania for a shorter while, the Sultan often decided the faith of local princes or the succession to the throne. The long-term consequences were dramatic. Local reigns lasted only a few years and were marked by an urgent need to raise tax revenue enough to repay the goodwill of the Sultan.

The princes who rebelled against the Ottomans were rapidly outcasted or even executed, one of them being the very rich Prince Constantin Brancoveanu who was beheaded in 1714 together with his four sons. His long reign (1688-1714) is remembered today also because of the beautiful ‘Brancovenesc’ architectural style you’ll see in many old churches from Bucharest and at Mogosoaia Palace.

Targoviste fortress

The most impressive medieval landmarks still conserved today were built against the Ottoman menace. The fortified churches of Transylvania, the fortresses of Rasnov and Rupea, Neamt Fortress and Poenari Fortress are some of the best examples.

At the border or rival empires

The Ottoman interference was even greater in the 18th century when only Greek princes were named to rule in Southern Romania and Moldavia, Transylvania being during this time part of the Habsburg Empire. During this century and the following one, the wars and conflictual interests of the Ottoman, the Russian and the Habsburg Empires often had a direct and destructive impact on the Romanian provinces and their territorial integrity.

After the revolution of 1848, the independence from the Ottoman Empire and the unity of the Romanian provinces became the most important goal of the Romanian elites. In 1859, following the election of the same prince in both Moldavia and Southern Romania, the two provinces united.

The arrival of a foreign prince, Carol the 1st of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen in 1866 reinforced the young Romanian state’s effort to have the union accepted by the Great Powers, but also to obtain its independence. This eventually happened in 1877, under the command of Prince Carol the 1st who became afterward the King of Romania. He died in 1914 and was followed by his nephew, King Ferdinand together with his wife Queen Maria.

Peles Castle

The role of the royal family is fundamental in the history of Romania. For an image of the royal times, visit Peles and Pelisor Castles in Sinaia and Cotroceni Palace in Bucharest.

Romania in the two world wars

Romania was a constitutional monarchy until the end of 1947 when King Michael the 1st, the grandson of King Ferdinand was forced by the communists to abdicate. Until that moment, Romania like of all of Europe passed through the horror of the two world wars.

The Romanian Kingdom entered the First World War in 1916, fighting against the Central Powers. The main goal was to free Transylvania where the majority Romanian population had almost no political and civil rights. After immense losses of lives and two years of occupation, the union of Transylvania, Bucovina and Basarabia with Romania finally happened.

Romanian History

In the two decades that followed, the Romanian Kingdom implemented major social reforms promised during the First World War. The world crisis from 1929 also affected Romania, but overall the economy recovered after the war, and the fast-paced development was easily visible in urban areas. Still, the country remained largely an agrarian state until the beginning of the Second World War that had the most tragic consequences for the history of Romania.

Ruled in an authoritarian way by King Carol the 2nd (1930-1940), Romania remained neutral until 1940 when big parts of its territory were occupied almost overnight by its neighbors: Hungary, the Soviet Union and Bulgaria. Surrounded by the forces of the Axis and looking to recover its lost territory, Romania entered the war in 1941 alongside Germany. On August 23, 1944, the young King Michael the 1st arrested General Ion Antonescu who ruled Romania de facto since 1940. From this moment, Romania fought against Germany and the Axis, mobilizing over half a million soldiers to free Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Still, Romania lost Basarabia and was occupied by the Soviet Army that rapidly imposed an illegitimate communist regime.

Romania under the communist regime

At the end of the Second World War, the country fell under the complete influence of the USSR and a harsh communist regime was installed until December 1989. The forced abdication of King Michael the 1st at the end of 1947 was the last piece of the puzzle for the communist who had already imprisoned the political elites of Romania. Many of Romania’s ministers and members of the Parliament were given no chance in extermination camps like the one from Sighetu Marmatiei, transformed today into a Memorial for the Victims of Communism.

Sighet memorial

The first decade of communism brought not only massive arrests — the number of political prisoners is estimated up to 2 million — but also devastating economic measures like the nationalization of private property and the forced collectivization of agricultural land. The centralized economy and the overdevelopment of the heavy industry eventually led to collapse like anywhere else in the Eastern block.

The dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu (1965-1989) made impossible any kind of reform, and the last decade of communism was one of strict ratios for food, electricity, heat and gas. The direct consequence was the violent revolution from 1989 that ended with the death of many protesters and the execution of Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife.

Visit the Palace of the Parliament and the former residence of Ceausescu from Bucharest for a glimpse of communist history.

Romanian history today

The years that followed 1989 were marked by a difficult and slow transition towards a stable democracy because of the presence of former communist leaders in the new democratic structures. Today, Romania is a member of the European Union and of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

If you’d like to discover more about the history of Romania, check our tours on www.uncover-romania-tours.com

About the author

Diana is a tourism consultant, tour guide, travel writer and amateur photographer, focusing on sustainable tourism practices and destinations. You can find Diana Condrea on Twitter and Google+

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