A brief history of the Romanians

The oldest modern human remains in Europe were discovered in the "Cave With Bones" in present day Romania. The remains are approximately 42,000 years old and as Europe’s oldest remains of Homo Sapiens, they may represent the first such people to have entered the continent. But the earliest written evidence of people living in the territory of the present-day Romania comes from Herodotus in book IV of his Histories written 440 BC, where he writes about the Getae tribes. Dacians, considered a part of these Getae, were a branch of Thracians that inhabited Dacia (corresponding to modern Romania, Moldova and northern Bulgaria). The Dacian kingdom reached its maximum expansion during King Burebista, around 82 BC, and soon came under the scrutiny of the neighboring Roman Empire. After an attack by the Dacians on the Roman province of Moesia in 87 AD, the Romans led a series of wars (Dacian Wars) which eventually led to the victory of Emperor Trajan in 106 AD, and transformed the core of the kingdom into the province of Roman Dacia. Rich ore deposits were found in the province, and especially gold and silver were plentiful. which led to Rome heavily colonizing the province. This brought the Vulgar Latin and started a period of intense romanization, that would give birth to the proto-Romanian. Nevertheless, in the 3rd century AD, with the invasions of migratory populations such as Goths, the Roman Empire was forced to pull out of Dacia around 271 AD, thus making it the first province to be abandoned. Several competing theories have been generated to explain the origin of modern Romanians. Linguistic and geo-historical analysis tend to indicate that Romanians have coalesced as a major ethnic group both South and North of the Danube. After the Roman army and administration left Dacia, the territory was invaded by the Goths, then, in the 4th century by Huns. They were followed by more nomads including Gepids, Avars, Bulgars, Pechenegs, and Cumans.

In the Middle Ages, Romanians lived in three distinct principalities: Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania. By the 11th century, Transylvania became a largely autonomous part of the Kingdom of Hungary, and became the independent as Principality of Transylvania from the 16th century, until 1711. In the other Romanian principalities, many small local states with varying degrees of independence developed, but only in the 14th century the larger principalities Wallachia (1310) and Moldavia (around 1352) emerged to fight a threat of the Ottoman Empire. By 1541, the entire Balkan peninsula and most of Hungary became Ottoman provinces. In contrast, Moldavia, Wallachia, and Transylvania, came under Ottoman suzerainty, but conserved fully internal autonomy and, until the 18th century, some external independence. During this period the Romanian lands were characterised by the slow disappearance of the feudal system; the distinguishment of some rulers like Stephen the Great, Vasile Lupu, and Dimitrie Cantemir in Moldavia, Matei Basarab, Vlad III the Impaler, and Constantin Brâncoveanu in Wallachia, Gabriel Bethlen in Transylvania; the Phanariot Epoch; and the appearance of the Russian Empire as a political and military influence.

In 1600, the principalities of Wallachia, Moldova and Transylvania were simultaneously headed by the Wallachian prince Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul), Ban of Oltenia, but the chance for a unity dissolved after Mihai was killed, only one year later, by the soldiers of an Austrian army general Giorgio Basta. Mihai Viteazul, who was prince of Transylvania for less than one year, intended for the first time to unite the three principalities and to lay down foundations of a single state in a territory comparable to today's Romania. After his death, as vassal tributary states, Moldova and Wallachia had complete internal autonomy and an external independence, which was finally lost in the 18th century. In 1699, Transylvania became a territory of the Habsburgs' Austrian empire, following the Austrian victory over the Turks. The Austrians, in their turn, rapidly expanded their empire: in 1718 an important part of Wallachia, called Oltenia, was incorporated to the Austrian monarchy and was only returned in 1739. In 1775, the Austrian empire occupied the north-western part of Moldavia, later called Bukovina, while the eastern half of the principality (called Bessarabia) was occupied in 1812 by Russia.

After the failed 1848 Revolution, the Great Powers did not support the Romanians' expressed desire to officially unite in a single state, forcing Romania to proceed alone against the Ottomans. The electors in both Moldavia and Wallachia chose in 1859 the same person - Alexandru Ioan Cuza – as prince. Thus, Romania was created as a personal union, albeit a Romania that did not include Transylvania. Here, the upper class and the aristocracy remained mainly Hungarian, and the Romanian nationalism inevitably ran up against Hungarian one in the late 19th century. As in the previous 900 years, Austria-Hungary, especially under the Dual Monarchy of 1867, kept the Hungarians firmly in control even in parts of Transylvania where Romanians constituted a local majority.
In a 1866 coup d'état, Cuza was exiled and replaced by Prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, who became known as Prince Carol of Romania. During the Russo-Turkish War Romania fought on the Russian side, in and in the 1878 Treaty of Berlin, Romania was recognized as an independent state by the Great Powers. In return, Romania ceded three southern districts of Bessarabia to Russia and acquired Dobruja. In 1881, the principality was raised to a kingdom and Prince Carol became King Carol I.
The 1878-1914 period was one of stability and progress for Romania. During the Second Balkan War, Romania joined Greece, Serbia, Montenegro against Turkey and Bulgaria, and in the peace Treaty of Bucharest (1913) Romania gained Southern Dobrudja.
In August 1914, when World War I broke out, Romania declared neutrality. Two years later, under the pressure of Allies (especially France desperate to open a new front), on August 14/27 1916 it joined the Allies, for which they were promised support for the accomplishment of national unity, Romania declared war on Austria-Hungary. The Romanian military campaign ended in disaster for Romania as the Central Powers conquered two-thirds of the country and captured or killed the majority of its army within four months. Nevertheless, Moldova remained in Romanian hands after the invading forces were stopped in 1917 and since by the war's end, Austria-Hungary and the Russian Empire had collapsed, Bessarabia, Bukovina and Transylvania were allowed to unite with the Kingdom of Romania in 1918. By the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, Hungary renounced in favour of Romania all the claims of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy over Transylvania. The union of Romania with Bukovina was ratified in 1919 in the Treaty of Saint-Germain, and with Bessarabia in 1920 by the Treaty of Paris.

The Romanian expression România Mare (literal translation "Great Romania", but more commonly rendered "Greater Romania") generally refers to the Romanian state in the interwar period, and by extension, to the territory Romania covered at the time (see map). Romania achieved at that time its greatest territorial extent (almost 300,000 km2), managing to unite all the historic Romanian lands.

During the Second World War, Romania tried again to remain neutral, but on June 28, 1940, it received a Soviet ultimatum with an implied threat of invasion in the event of non-compliance. Under pressure from Moscow and Berlin, the Romanian administration and the army were forced to retreat from Bessarabia as well from Northern Bukovina to avoid war. This, in combination with other factors, prompted the government to join the Axis. Thereafter, southern Dobruja was awarded to Bulgaria, while Hungary received Northern Transylvania as result of an Axis arbitration. The authoritarian King Carol II abdicated in 1940, succeeded by the National Legionary State, in which power was shared by Ion Antonescu and the Iron Guard. Within months, Antonescu had crushed the Iron Guard, and the subsequent year Romania entered the war on the side of the Axis powers. During the war, Romania was the most important source of oil for Nazi Germany, which attracted multiple bombing raids by the Allies. By means of the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, Romania recovered Bessarabia and northern Bukovina from the Soviet Russia, under the leadership of general Ion Antonescu. The Antonescu regime played a major role in the Holocaust, following to a lesser extent the Nazi policy of oppression and massacre of the Jews, and Romas, primarily in the Eastern territories Romania recovered or occupied from the Soviet Union (Transnistria) and in Moldavia.
In August 1944, Antonescu was toppled and arrested by King Michael I of Romania. Romania changed sides and joined the Allies, but its role in the defeat of Nazi Germany was not recognized by the Paris Peace Conference of 1947. With the Red Army forces still stationed in the country and exerting de facto control, Communists and their allied parties claimed 80% of the vote, through a combination of vote manipulation, elimination, and forced mergers of competing parties, thus establishing themselves as the dominant force. By the end of the war, the Romanian army had suffered about 300,000 casualties.

In 1947, King Michael I was forced by the Communists to abdicate and leave the country, Romania was proclaimed a republic, and remained under direct military and economic control of the USSR until the late 1950s. During this period, Romania's resources were drained by the "SovRom" agreements: mixed Soviet-Romanian companies established to mask the looting of Romania by the Soviet Union. After the negotiated retreat of Soviet troops in 1958, Romania, under the new leadership of Nicolae Ceauşescu, started to pursue independent policies. But as Romania's foreign debt sharply increased between 1977 and 1981 (from 3 to 10 billion US dollars), the influence of international financial organisations such as the IMF or the World Bank grew, conflicting with Nicolae Ceauşescu's autarchic policies. He eventually initiated a project of total reimbursement of the foreign debt by imposing policies that impoverished Romanians and exhausted the Romanian economy, while also greatly extending the authority police state, and imposing a cult of personality. These led to a dramatic decrease in Ceauşescu-popularity and culminated in his overthrow and execution in the bloody Romanian Revolution of 1989. During the 1947–1962 period, many people were arbitrarily killed or imprisoned for political, economic or unknown reasons: detainees in prisons or camps, deported, persons under house arrest, and administrative detainees. There were hundreds of thousands of abuses, deaths and incidents of torture against a large range of people, from political opponents to ordinary citizens.

After the revolution, post-Cold War Romania developed closer ties with Western Europe, joining NATO in 2004. The country applied in June 1993 for membership in the European Union and became an Associated State of the EU in 1995, an Acceding Country in 2004, and a member on January 1, 2007. Following the free travel agreement and politic of the post-Cold War period, as well as hardship of the life in the post 1990s economic depression, Romania has an increasingly large diaspora, estimated at over 2 million people. The main emigration targets are Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, UK, Canada and the USA.