The oldest traces of human habitation in Romania date from the paleolithic (stone age)
period. Settled communities whose residents engaged in hunting, agriculture and stock
breeding appeared ten thousand years ago. During the second millenium B.C., the Romanian
area was inhabited by the autonomous Thracians, an Indo-European people, who merged
with the native population to produce the Dacian people. Tribes arose, federations were
formed and small kingdoms emerged.
During the first century B.C. a strong independent Dacian Kingdom arose, centered in the Orastie Mountains of southern Transylvania, where it developed its political. economic and military center at Sarmisagetusa. It grew to include approximately the entire territory of modern Romania and established trading relations with the Greek cities founded on the Black Sea coast. An aristocratic class and a non-aristocratic, but free, class of citizens evolved, while slaves were used only on a small scale for domestic service.
The religion of the Thraco-Dacians was monotheistic and centered on the worshop of Zalmoxes and in the belief in the immortality of the soul. There superior religious ideas allowed Christianity to be easily accepted by the people when the new religion was introduced to them.
The Dacian Kingdom flourished from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D., under the leadership of a series of successful rulers, including King Burebista and Decebalus. Dacia entered into conflict with the expanding Roman Empire, engaging it in two fierce wars, 101-102 A.D. and 105-106 A.D., before being conquered by the Roman armies lead by Emperor Trajan.
Dacia was integrated into the Roman Empire between 106 and 271 A.D. Under Roman administration, agriculture, mining, trade, crafts, arts and culture developed. The Dacian population adopted the vulgate Latin language of the Romans, fused with the colonists to from a Daco-Roman population which simultaneously received the Christian religion and formed the basis of the present day Romanian people.
Emperor Aurelian, facing the onslaught of the barbarian invasions, withdrew the Roman military garrisons and civil administration south of the Danube in 271 A.D. The Daco-Roman population remained in village and territorial communities , which continued organized life during the eight centuries of barbarian migrations across their lands.
In this difficult period, the Romanian language evolved and the Christian Church was organized under the influence of the Orthodox Byzantine Empire at Constantinople. Three Romanian feudal states, known as "principalities" arose in Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia. The Magars settled on the Pannonian plains and by force of arms gained political control over Transylvania.
The Romanian Principalities represented a rampart against the Ottoman Turkish expansion into Europe, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the fall of the Balkan Orthodox states of Bulgaria and Serbia. Romanian prices led Christian resistance against the Ottomans for centuries.
They included Mircea the Elder in Wallachia (1386-1418); Ioan Corvin of Hunedoara, Duke of Transylvania (1438-1456), afterwards regent of Hungary; Vlad the Impaler in Wallachia (1456-1463); Stephen the Great and Holy in Moldavia (1456-1504), who pope Sixtus IV recognized as "the most powerful athelete of Christ" and who was cannonized by the Romanian Orthodox Church in 1993 and Michael the Brave of Wallachia (1593-1601), who for the first time united the three Romanian Principalities into a single state in 1600, and has since remaied a symbol of unity for the Romanian People.
Facing the growing power of the Ottoman Empire alone, without aid from the western powers, the Romanian Principalities were compelled to recognize Turkish suzerainty, but were never occupied and did not become Turkish provinces or "Pashaliks" as was the case with other conquered Christian lands in Byzantium, Serbia, Bulgaria and Hungary. Annual tribute was paid to the sultan beginning in the sixteenth century, but Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia retained their autonomous status under Turkish sovereignty.
As a result of their privileged position, in the seventeenth century, the Romanian states became the protectors of Christianity in the whole of the Orthodox East and their princes, the successors of the Byzantine Emporers in the intellectual life and the affairs of the church.
The Romanian principalities went through an extended period of political crisis in the 18th century when they became the scene of struggles between the Austrian, Russian and Ottoman Empires. Transylvania became part of the Austrian Empire, where it retained its autonomy, with the Emperor assuming the title of Archduke of Transylvania. Austria occupied north-western Moldavia (Bucovina) in 1775 and Russia annexed eastern Moldavia (Bessarabia) in 1812. The Russian Empire increased its political influence in Moldavia and Wallachia and disputes over control of the Romanian principalities was a major cause of the constant wars between the Russian and Ottoman Empires during the nineteenth century.
The revival of Romanian politiocal and national sentiment took place at the end of the eighteenth century when a national bourgeoisie emerged, which struggled for the independence and unification of the separate states into a single nation. As a result of Russia's defeat in the Crimean War, Moldavia and Wallachia achieved political union in 1859, under Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza (1859-1866). He was forced to abdicate in 1866 and the throne passed to prince Carol I, of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen house.
Romania joined Russia in the war against the Ottoman Empire in 1877-1878 and contributed decisivly to the victory against the Turks. It was recognized as an independent state at the Peace Conference of Berlin in 1878 and was raised to the rank of a Kingdom in 1881.
After its defeat by Prussia in 1867, the Austrian Empire was reorganized as the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary and Translyvania was incorporated into Hungary, against the will of the Romanians, who formed over seventy pecent of the population. Until 1918, the history of Transylvania was marked by the Romanian struggle for unification with the Romanian Kingdom. During this period, as a result of ethnic and economic repression, Romanians began to emigrate from their homeland to the United States and Canada in search of economic opportunity and political liberty.
Romania maintained its neutrality for the first two years of World War I, but declatred war on Austria Hungary on 15 August 1916, with the acknowledged intention of librating and unifying Transylvania. By their free choice, the peoples of Bessarabia, Bucovina, Transylvania, Banat, Crisana and Maramures declared their formal union with the Romanian Kingdom in1918.
Romanians developed their economy and culture during the next two decades and the people enjoyed a large measure of democracy and freedom of the press. Romanian foreign policy supported existing peace treaties but under the combined prssure of Germany and the Soviet Union, northern Transylvania was ceded to Hungary, northern Bucovina and Bessarabia were occupied by the Soviet Union and southern Dobrujia (th Quadrilater) was ceded to Bulgaria in 1940. Romania joined germany in the war against the Soviet Union , in an attempt to recoup its lost territory.
As a result of the Yalta Agreement, Romania entered the "Soviet Zone of Influence" and was occupied by the Red Army. King Michael I abdicated the throne and Romania was proclaimed a comunist people's republic in 1947. The economy was reorganized using Soviet methods, agriculture was collectivized and traditional culture was altered or destroyed.
Tens of thousands were encarcerated and thousands died in prision or labor camps. In December 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu, the last communist president was overthrown and after a half century of Communist exploitation and repression, the people of Romania are attempting to restructure the economy and establish a democratic political life.