Romania occupies, roughly, ancient Dacia, which was a Roman province in the 2d and 3d cent. A.D. The ethnic character of modern Romania seems to have been formed in the Roman period; Christianity was introduced at that time as well. After the Romans left the region, the area was overrun successively by the Goths, the Huns, the Avars, the Bulgars, and the Magyars.
After a period of Mongol rule (13th cent.), the history of the Romanian people became in essence that of the two Romanian principalities—Moldavia and Walachia—and of Transylvania, which for most of the time was a Hungarian dependency. The princes of Walachia (in 1417) and of Moldavia (mid-16th cent.) became vassals of the Ottoman Empire, but they retained considerable independence. Although the princes were despots and became involved in numerous wars, their rule was a period of prosperity as compared with the 18th and 19th cent. Many old cathedrals in the country still testify to the cultural activity of the time.
Michael the Brave of Walachia defied both the Ottoman sultan and the Holy Roman emperor and at the time of his death (1601) controlled Moldavia, Walachia, and Transylvania. However, Michael's empire soon fell apart. An ill-fated alliance (1711) of the princes of Moldavia and Walachia with Peter I of Russia led to Turkish domination of Romania. Until 1821 the Turkish sultans appointed governors, or hospodars, usually chosen from among the Phanariots (see under Phanar), Greek residents of Constantinople. The governors and their subordinates reduced the Romanian people (except for a few great landlords, the boyars) to a group of nomadic shepherds and poor, enserfed peasants.
At the end of the 18th cent. Turkish control was seriously challenged by Russia and by Austria; at the same time, a strong nationalist movement was growing among the Romanians. The treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji (1774) gave Russia considerable influence over Moldavia and Walachia. When, in 1821, Alexander Ypsilanti raised the Greek banner of revolt in Moldavia, the Romanians (who had more grievances against the Greek Phanariots than against the Turks) helped the Turks to expel the Greeks. In 1822 the Turks agreed to appoint Romanians as governors of the principalities; after the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–29, during which Russian forces occupied Moldavia and Walachia, the governors were given life tenure. Although the two principalities technically remained within the Ottoman Empire, they actually became Russian protectorates.
Under Russian pressure, new constitutions giving extensive rights to the boyars were promulgated in Walachia (1831) and Moldavia (1832). At the same time, a renewed national and cultural revival was under way, and in 1848 the Romanians rose in rebellion against both foreign control and the power of the boyars. The uprising, secretly welcomed by the Turks, was suppressed, under the leadership of Russia, by joint Russo-Turkish military intervention. Russian troops did not evacuate Romania until 1854, during the Crimean War, when they were replaced by a neutral Austrian force. The Congress of Paris (1856) established Moldavia and Walachia as principalities under Turkish suzerainty and under the guarantee of the European powers, and it awarded S Bessarabia to Moldavia.
The election (1859) of Alexander John Cuza as prince of both Moldavia and Walachia prepared the way for the official union (1861–62) of the two principalities as Romania. Cuza freed (1864) the peasants from certain servile obligations and distributed some land (confiscated from religious orders) to them. However, he was despotic and corrupt and was deposed by a coup in 1866. Carol I of the house of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was chosen as his successor. A moderately liberal constitution was adopted in 1866. In 1877, Romania joined Russia in its war on Turkey. At the Congress of Berlin (1878), Romania gained full independence but was obliged to restore S Bessarabia to Russia and to accept N Dobruja in its place. In 1881, Romania was proclaimed a kingdom.
After becoming a kingdom, Romania continued to be torn by violence and turmoil, caused mainly by the government's failure to institute adequate land reform, by the corruption of government officials, and by frequent foreign interference. There was no real attempt to curb the anti-Semitic excesses through which the peasants, encouraged by demagogues, vented their feelings against the Jewish agents of the absentee Romanian landlords, the boyars. A major peasant revolt in 1907 was directed against both the Jews and the boyars. Romania remained neutral in the first (1912) of the Balkan Wars but entered the second war (1913), against Bulgaria, and gained S Dobruja.
Although Romania had adhered (1883) to the Triple Alliance, it proclaimed its neutrality when World War I broke out in 1914. In the same year Ferdinand succeeded Carol as king. Romanian irredentism in Transylvania helped to bring Romania into the Allied camp, and in 1916 Romania declared war on the Central Powers. Most of the country was overrun by Austro-German forces, and in Feb., 1918, by the Treaty of Bucharest, Romania consented to a harsh peace. On Nov. 9, 1918, Romania again entered the war on the Allied side, and the general armistice of Nov. 11, 1918, annulled the Treaty of Bucharest. Shortly thereafter, Romania annexed Bessarabia from Russia, Bukovina from Austria, and Transylvania and the Banat from Hungary.
Romanian armed intervention (1919) in Hungary defeated the Communist regime of Béla Kun and helped to put Admiral Horthy into power. Romania's acquisition of Bukovina, Transylvania, part of the Banat (the rest going to Yugoslavia [now in Serbia]), and Crişana-Maramureş (until then a part of Hungary) was confirmed by the treaties of Saint-Germain (1919) and Trianon (1920), but the USSR did not recognize Romania's seizure of Bessarabia. A series of agrarian laws beginning in 1917 did much to break up the large estates and to redistribute the land to the peasants. The large Magyar population as well as other minority groups were a constant source of friction.
Internal Romanian politics were undemocratic and unfair. Electoral laws were revised (1926) to enable the party in power to keep out opponents, and assassination was not unusual as a political instrument. Political conflict became acute after the death (1927) of Ferdinand, when the royal succession was thrown into confusion. Ferdinand's son, Carol, had renounced the succession and Carol's son Michael became king, but in 1930 Carol returned, set his son aside, and was proclaimed king as Carol II. The court party, led by the king and by Mme Magda Lupescu, was extremely unpopular, but its opponents were divided.
The Liberal party, headed first by John Bratianu (see under Bratianu, family) and later by Ion Duca, was bitterly opposed by the Peasant party, led by Iuliu Maniu. A right wing of the Peasant party joined with other anti-Semitic groups in the National Christian party, which was linked with the terrorist Iron Guard. There was a frequent turnover of cabinets, and the only figure of some permanence was Nicholas Titulescu, who was foreign minister for much of the period from 1927 to 1936, when the increasingly powerful Fascist groups forced him to resign. In 1938, Carol II assumed dictatorial powers and promulgated a corporative constitution, which was approved in a rigged plebiscite. Later in 1938, after Codreanu and 13 other leaders of the Iron Guard were shot "while trying to escape" from prison, Carol proclaimed the Front of National Renascence as the sole legal political party.
In foreign affairs, Romania entered the Little Entente (1921) and the Balkan Entente (1934) largely to protect itself against Hungarian and Bulgarian revisionism. After 1936 the country drew closer to the Axis powers. The country remained neutral at the outbreak (1939) of World War II, but in 1940 it became a neutral partner of the Axis. Romania was powerless (1940) to resist Soviet demands for Bessarabia and N Bukovina or to oppose Bulgarian and Hungarian demands, backed by Germany, for the S Dobruja, the Banat, Crişana-Maramureş, and part of Transylvania. The Iron Guard rose in rebellion against Carol's surrender of these territories. Carol was deposed (1940) and exiled, and Michael returned to the throne. The army gained increased influence and Ion Antonescu became dictator.
In June, 1941, Romania joined Germany in its attack on the Soviet Union. Romanian troops recovered Bessarabia and Bukovina and helped to take Odessa, but they suffered heavily at Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in late 1942 and early 1943. In Aug., 1944, two Soviet army groups entered Romania. Michael overthrew Antonescu's Fascist regime, surrendered to the USSR, and ordered Romanian troops to fight on the Allied side. During the war half of Romania's Jewish population of 750,000 was exterminated, while most of the remainder went to Israel after its independence (1948). The peace treaty between Romania and the Allies, signed at Paris in 1947, in essence confirmed the armistice terms of 1944. Romania recovered all its territories except Bessarabia, N Bukovina, and S Dobruja.
Politically and economically, Romania became increasingly dependent on the Soviet Union. A Communist-led coalition government, headed by the nominally non-Communist Peter Groza, was set up in 1945. In Dec., 1947, Michael was forced to abdicate, and Romania was proclaimed a people's republic. The first constitution (1945) was superseded in 1952 by a constitution patterned more directly on the Soviet model. Nationalization of industry and natural resources was completed by a law of 1948, and there was also forced collectivization of agriculture. Control over the major industries, notably petroleum, was shared with the USSR after 1945, but an agreement in 1952 dissolved the joint companies and returned them to full Romanian control. In 1949, Romania joined the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), and in 1955 it became a charter member of the Warsaw Treaty Organization and also joined the United Nations.
For all but a year of the period from 1945 to 1965 Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej was head of the Romanian Workers' (Communist) party; he was succeeded by Nicholae Ceauşescu as leader of the party, renamed the Romanian Communist party. Gheorghiu-Dej and Ceauşescu were both dictators who followed the Stalinist model of rapid industrialization and political repression. In 1965, Romania was officially termed a socialist republic, instead of a people's republic, to denote its alleged attainment of a higher level of Communism, and a new constitution was adopted.
Beginning in 1963, Romania's foreign policy became increasingly independent of that of the USSR. In early 1967, Romania established diplomatic relations with West Germany. It maintained friendly relations with Israel after the Arab-Israeli War of June, 1967, whereas the other East European Communist nations severed diplomatic ties. In 1968, Romania did not join in the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and in 1969, Ceauşescu and President Tito of Yugoslavia affirmed the sovereignty and equality of socialist nations.
During the 1970s, the emphasis on rapid industrialization continued at the expense of other areas, especially agriculture. Political repression remained severe, particularly toward the German and Magyar minorities. In 1981, a rising national debt, caused in part by massive investment in the petrochemical industry, led Ceauşescu to institute an austerity program that resulted in severe shortages of food, electricity, and consumer goods. In Dec., 1989, antigovernment violence broke out in Timişoara and spread to other cities. When army units joined the uprising, Ceauşescu fled, but he was captured, deposed, and executed along with his wife. A 2006 presidential commission report estimated that under Communist rule (1945–89) as many as 2 million people were killed or persecuted in Romania.
A provisional government was established, with Ion Iliescu, a former Communist party official, as president. In the elections of May, 1990, Iliescu won the presidency and his party, the National Salvation Front, obtained an overwhelming majority in the legislature. Iliescu was reelected in 1992, but was defeated by Emil Constantinescu of the Democratic Convention party in 1996.
Throughout the 1990s and into the next decade the country's economy lagged, as it struggled to make the transition to a market-based economy. Price increases and food shortages led to civil unrest, and the closing of mines set off large-scale strikes and demonstrations by miners. Privatization of state-run industries proceeded cautiously, with citizens having shares in companies but little knowledge or information about their investments. Widespread corruption also was a problem. In Nov.–Dec., 2000, elections Iliescu again won the presidency, after a runoff against Corneliu V. Tudor, an ultranationalist.
In Oct., 2003, the country approved constitutional changes protecting the rights of ethnic minorities and property owners; the amendments were designed to win European Union approval for Romania's admission to that body, but continuing pervasive corruption remained a stumbling block. The country joined NATO in Mar., 2004. The Nov.–Dec., 2004, presidential election was won by the center-right opposition candidate, Traian Basescu of the Liberal Democratic party (PDL); Basescu defeated the first round leader, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, after a runoff. In Apr., 2005, Romania finally signed an accession treaty with the European Union; Romania became a member of the EU in 2007, but corruption and judicial reform remained significant EU concerns and delayed the nation's joining the EU's borderless Schengen Area. In Feb., 2006, Nastase, who had become parliament speaker, was charged with corruption; he accused the government of mounting a politically inspired prosecution. Nastase was acquitted in that case in Dec., 2011, but was convicted in a second corruption case in Jan., 2012, and of blackmail in a third case in Mar., 2012.
Disagreements between the outspoken, popular president and the center-right prime minister, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, of the National Liberal party (PNL), became increasing acrimonious in early 2007, after the president accused the prime minister of having attempted to influence a corruption investigation of a political ally. In April the left-wing opposition and Popescu-Tariceanu's allies in parliament voted to suspend the president for unconstitutional conduct, a dubious charge given that the constitutional court had ruled previously that the president had not violated the constitution, but the court also upheld the president's suspension. The suspension forced a referendum on impeaching the president, and in the May poll 74% of the voters opposed impeachment. The prime minister's government subsequently (June) survived a no-confidence vote.
In the Nov., 2008, parliamentary elections, the Social Democratic and Conservative parties (PSD-PC) won the most votes, but the PDL won the most seats. The two formed a coalition government, with PDL leader Emil Boc as prime minister. In Oct., 2009, however, the coalition collapsed after Boc dismissed the PSD interior minister; the resulting PDL minority government soon lost a confidence vote. The president nominated Lucian Croitoru, an economist, for prime minister, but a parliamentary majority rejected him, having proposed Klaus Iohannis, the mayor of Sibiu and a member of a small, ethnic German party.
Basescu was reelected by a narrow margin in Dec., 2009, defeating the PSD-PC's Mircea Geoana. Geoana, whom polls had predicted would win, accused Basescu of fraud and sought a revote; a court-ordered review of the invalidated votes increased Basescu's lead slightly. Basescu appointed Boc as prime minister of the PDL-led coalition government. In 2010 the government imposed a number of austerities, including public sector pay cuts and tax increases, as part of its efforts to reduce the deficit and secure loans from International Monetary Fund. In early 2012, several weeks of protest over the effects of those measures and over corruption and cronyism led Boc's government to resign in February. Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, the head of the foreign intelligence service, succeeded Boc as prime minister, heading the same PDL-led coalition, but the government lost a confidence vote in April.
In May, 2012, Victor Ponta, the PSD leader, became prime minister of a three-party center-left coalition government. In July the president's opponents in parliament for a second time voted to suspend him on charges of unconstitutional behavior, forcing a referendum on removing him from office; Ponta's government also reduced the powers of the constitutional court. The moves prompted criticism from the European Union. The July referendum, which went decisively against Basescu, had less than a 50% turnout, and because of that the result was declared invalid by the constitutional court in August. The PSD and its coalition allies won two thirds of the parliamentary seats in the Dec., 2012, election, and Ponta again became prime minister. The new government subsequently lowered the turnout threshold for a valid referendum to 30%. Efforts by the parliament during 2013 to protect lawmakers from criminal corruption investigations were criticized by the EU and others.