History – The Romanians

Short description

The Romanians
A concise history

Contents –

ORIGINS AND FORMATION

-          Under the sign of  Zamolxis
-          A great Dacian Kingdom
-          Trajan and the Romanisation of Dacia
-          Formation of the Romanian People
-          Characteristic feature of the Romanian Language and Civilization
-          The dawns of the Romanian History

LANDMARKS OF THE ROMANIAN HISTORY

-          Europe in front of  Islam
-          Mircea the Old – [...]


The Romanians

A concise history


Contents –

  1. ORIGINS AND FORMATION

-          Under the sign of  Zamolxis

-          A great Dacian Kingdom

-          Trajan and the Romanisation of Dacia

-          Formation of the Romanian People

-          Characteristic feature of the Romanian Language and Civilization

-          The dawns of the Romanian History


  1. LANDMARKS OF THE ROMANIAN HISTORY

-          Europe in front of  Islam

-          Mircea the Old – Great Voivode of Wallachia

-          The crusade spirit: Iancu de Hunedoara and Stephen the Great

-          Michael the Brave and the first unification of the Romanian Principalities

-          Paving the way for the Modern Times

-          Revolutions and wars for independence and unity


  1. THE ROMANIANS SPIRITUAL LIFE

-          Christianity

-          The two myths of the Romanian spirituality

-          Salient features of the Romanian culture

-          Prominent features of the Romanian Culture

ORIGINS AND FORMATION

Under the sign of  Zamolxis

The Romanians are the descendants of two great peoples of the antiquity: the Geto-Dacians and the Romans. The Getae, or Dacians as the romans used to call them, belong to the large Thracian family, deeply rooted in the ancient history and old religions of Hellas. They emerged in the Carpathian- Danube regions at the end of the Neolithic age, some two thousand years before Christ.


Soon Dacia became famous for its extraordinary rich soil and subsoil. Her fertile plains allowed for a fast development of agriculture; the sub-Carpathian hills were very propitious for animal breeding; the lakes along the Danube and the lagoons of the Danube Delta teemed with fish; salt and gold were so easy to find and in such great quantities that after the conquest of Dacia, Emperor Trajan would abolish taxes throughout the empire for  three years because the production of the gold mines in Transylvania was more than enough to cover the “budget deficits” of the empire.Thanks to her riches, Dacia was among the most densely populated regions of the ancient world. Shortly before the Roman conquest, the future “Dacia Felix” had become the California of the ancient world.


In addition to the material riches the Dacians possessed, they were a healthy, hard-working, heroic and religious people. All classic authors attest to the true and deep nature of their religious life. Herodotus says that the Getae were the “bravest and most righteous among the Thracians”, undoubtedly because of their belief in the immortality of the soul. “The Getae were the most valiant men of the antiquity not only because of their stamina, but also because Zamolxis, whom they worshiped, had taught them to be so. They thought death was just and abode change; for that reason, they were ready to die rather than become slaves.


Contempt for death and suffering along with the belief in immortality are the characteristic elements of the Geto-Dacian religion. The ancient world was also impressed with the idea of spiritual preeminence that Plato himself gave it as an example by showing what Zamolxis recommended to his disciples:” we must see the body and the soul together, the same as we should not look a the eyes without paying attention to the head, or to the head without paying attention the body”.


Scholars have not agreed as to whether Zamolxis was a celestial or terrestrial deity. One thing is sure though: the high spirituality of the cult. Zamolxis had neither temples nor representations. He was worshipped on hills and on the top of the mountains, the supreme places for the cult being on the highest peaks of the Carpathians.

Strabo is amazed of the pure, frugal and ascetic life of the Geto-Dacians under the influence of Zamolxis’s doctrine.


Their tribes, led by chiefs who at times succeeded in leading if not the entire people at least the greatest part of it, lived in villages and small settlements.

Although the Dacian civilization was essentially agrarian, part of the population was made of craftsmen making pottery, processing wood or extracting and processing metals.

The Geto Dacians were medium high blond men, who grew a beard and had long hair. The noblemen used to wear a small cap, while those belonging to the lower classes were bare-headed. Their physical aspect as well as the characteristics of their attire- loose fitting knee lomg shirt and a girdle along the waist, a mantle fixed with a fibula on the shoulder and hanging loose on the back – have been conveyed to us through the reliefs of the famous Trajan’s Column in the Roman Forum. Even today one may find these characteristics with the Romanian peasants, particularly those living in the Carpathian regions of Transylvania.


For almost two thousand years the Dacians had their roots deeply cast in the soil of their homeland, which they never deserted: one may say they were the product of this land, which nourished them and for whose defence of which they were always ready to lay down their lives. There were always other people that coveted the riches of Dacia. The Cimmerians, several times at the beginning of the first millennium BC; some time later in the 7th century BC, the Scythians of Iranian kin, who brought along the beneficial influence of iron working from the Near East; around 1000 BC tribes belonging to the Hallstadt-Ilirian and Italic- Villanovan civilizations came from the west, paving the way for the Western Roman world that was to penetrate in those places a few centuries later. Finally, another extremely important Western influence was to be exerted by the Celts and their civilization in the 4th century BC.


However all those peoples were ultimately assimilated by the Dacians. From all those contacts – warlike a the beginning, but peaceful and fruitful later- the Dacian culture came out enriched.

Five centuries before Christ, Dacia had important commercial relations with Greece; several Greek colonies have been already established on the western Black Sea shore and the Danube mouths. Everything had contributed to turning Dacia into a bridge linking several worlds: not only it was a frontier between Europe and Asia, but it was there that the great cultural trends of the West and the East overlapped and intercrossed. It was there, in Dacia, that history initiated the earliest fusions between East and West: the Cimmerian from the Caspian Sea with Villanovan’s from Italy, the Scythians of Iranian kin with the Celts, etc. Those trends and influences of East and West clashed and intercrossed over the Geto-Dacians, who remained in the territory they had inhabited for centuries, assimilating one tribe after another.


This situation was merely in anticipation of the tragic history of thr Romanians. Like their Geto-Dacian forefathers, the Romanians will have to face with a series of more violent invasions then the ones occurred during their protohistory, as well as with contradictory and at times even hostile influences. In spite of all this, the Romanians remained firmly rooted in their land, which they did not desert even under the mos tragical circumstances, and withstood countless invasions and influences without losing its ethnic substance, style, vigour, its genuine physical and moral personality.


A Great Dacian Kingdom

We know some episodes of the Geto-Dacians’ ancient history. In 514 BC Darius, King of Persia, on his way to the Scythians’land, penetrated into Dobroudia ahead of a powerful army. Impressed with the considerable force of nis troops, all Thracian tribes he came across. submitted to him; the Dacians alone opposed him through bitter fighting4.

At one time Alexander the Great, too, came close to Dacia. In 335 BC he crossed the Danube and conquered a Getic town, but he had to leave after barely 24 hours as a result of the fact that a number of Greek towns he had conquered shortly before had mutinied. And he never returned, seduced as he was by his dream to dominate over Asia.



Nevertheless, Greek historians recorded the names and deeds of some of the Dacian kings, even if very few of them. To some extent this is quite puzzling, as Greek historiography hardly retained the names of those who had any connection with the Greeks or who directly threatened the Hellenic world. Fortunately, the Greeks retained in their memory things by far more valuable: they did not ignore either Zalmoxis, or the Dacians’ virtues, or their spiritual horizon so pure and so comprehensive. As a matter of fact, there are more important – one may say even decisive – things than the documents regarding some individual or another, the details of a battle or the downf all of a dynasty: the proofs attesting to the spiritual and cultural life of an entire people, the documents that are discovered and interpreted by prehistory, ar­chaeology and ethnology. A symbol, a myth, a certain lifestyle reconstituted with the help of domesticpotteryand tools are by far more significant, because with the help of such impersonal documents an entire culture can be brought to hie and the sense of a people’s spiritual-ness can be unravelled.



The first Geto-Dacian king to have his name recorded by Greek historiography was Dromichaites. He waged several battles against the Macedonians; in 292 BC he succeeded in taking prisoner the Macedonian King Lysimachos, along with an entire army. After Dromichaites, and as a result of the Celtic invasion, the Dacian kingdom entered a period of internal disensions. It was only two centuries later, during Burebista’s time (1st century BC), that Dacia would acquire the force and prestige she had never had before. Burebista managed to unify all small Geto-Dacian principalities, and as a result his kingdom stretched from the Balkans and Bohemia to the Tisza and the Bug rivers. The Greek towns on the Black Sea coast recognized him as their sovereign; moreover, Burebista con­sidered himself sufficiently strong to interfere in the intestine strug­gles of Rome. His army was considerably large, at times standing at 200,000 men.



The Romans began to get worried. Caesar contemplated to or­ganise an expedition against Burebista, but he died before having the chance to embark upon it. Luckily for Rome, Burebista died shortly after Caesar, and his kingdom was divided between his successors. Meanwhile, the conflict between Rome and Dacia had become unavoidable. Starting with the 1st century BC, the Romans could be found on the right bank of the Danube, though their commerce and culture had penetrated into Dacia long before that date. The glory of Rome fascinated the Geto-Dacians, a people of farmers who led a simple hard life. Sometimes, the attraction was so strong that the Dacians would cross the Danube, overrunning the new Roman province of Moesia, as it happened in AD 69 and 85.



Emperor Dpmitian initiated then a series of operations against Dacia that ended in utter failure. Oppius Sabinus, Governor of Moesia, was taken prisoner, and his army was decimated. A second expedition, this time led by Cornelius Fuscus, met with the same fate. It was only some time later that another Roman general, Tettius Julianus, suc­ceeded in defeating the Dacians at Tapae in AD 89. The peace con­cluded on the occasion was not unfavourable to the Dacians: Domitian pledged to supply them with Roman workers and to pay them a certain amount of money.



At the time, Dacia was being ruled by Decebalus, the third and last one of the great Dacian kings. He had a well-organised army as well as fortifications made of earth and stone around his capital Sar-mizegethusa, located in the south-western part of Transylvania, but also in other strategic places. Decebalus introduced Roman discipline and fighting methods in his army. Following the agreement concluded with Domitian, he was sent Roman engineers and craftsmen, war machines, etc. Decebalus was one of those few barbarians who had understood that there was but one way to withstand and even defeat Roman power: to assimilate its civilisation. During his reign, the Romanisation of Dacia was stimulated. There were many Dacians who spoke Latin, a language quite well known north of the Danube even in Augustus’ time. At one time, there was a rumour in Rome about a possible marriage of Julia, Augustus’ daughter, to young Dacian King Cotiso.



Decebalus’ victories and his growing power were a matter of discontent to the Romans. The treaty concluded by Domitian with the Dacians’ king was not only humiliating for Roman dignity, but it was also dangerous for the security of the empire. On the other hand, Decebalus’ glory endangered Roman prestige in those limitrophe provinces. A powerful Dacian kingdom was a temptation not only For Moesia, the inhabitants of which might have rebelled against the Roman rule, but also for the other provinces in Central Europe, Pannonia, for instance. That is why a new Daco-Roman war seemed unavoidable. Moreover, one should not forget the appeal Dacia’s riches had for the… empty chests of the empire. Finally, the strategic spirit of the caesars resuscitated with Trajan, who decided to con­quer Dacia.



“The province of Dacia was not supposed to be a mere bridgehead”, Constantin Daicoviciu argues with good reason, “but a power­ful well-organised base [...] meant to ensure the safety of the Roman world and, of course, to help it expand north of the middle and lower course of the Danube, into Marcomannia and Sarmatia, provinces which Emperor Marcus Aurelius contemplated to annex to the empire in continuation to the century-old Caesarean policy. Indeed, not only was the annexation of Dacia to the empire a true blessing for its Balkan parts [...], but it also had abeneficial influence upon thebarbarianpopulations living west, north and east of Dacia, which were thus prepared to cope with a new civilised life and the advanced forms of Roman culture”5.

Trajan and the Romanisation of Dacia

The man destined to conquer and Romanise Dacia was an Iberian emperor. A colonus born in the Spanish town of Italica, he proved to be a great general and an intelligent emperor. The succeeding generations bestowed on him the title of optimus princeps. He dedicated himself with the same energy to the task of regenerating the empire through domestic reforms and of strengthening it through new conquests. It was only after Trajan had secured peace in the regions of the upper course of the Danube, that is in Pannonia, that he attacked Dacia. In AD 101 he crossed the river into Dacia with huge forces, the strength of which stood at thirteen legions. The resistance put up by the Dacians and their heroic King Decebalus was extremely vigorous. The Romans won a victory at Tapae, but they sustained huge casualties. The campaign would be continued the following year, AD 102. Defeated again, this time at Sarmizegethusa, Decebalus sued for peace.The terms Trajan imposed on him were very hard. The proud Dacian king was to be a client prince, and a Roman garrison was to be quartered in his capital.



The Dacians, however, could not accept submission, therefore shortly after the defeat Decebalus began to prepare for the revenge by haying fortifications built up and by concluding alliances with the neighbouring peoples. There is no doubt that the first to attack was Trajan, who crossed the Danube on a bridge built after the first Dacian war. The campaign began in AD 105, in June. Two large Roman armies penetrated into Transylvania across the Carpathians and made for Sarmizegethusa. The fighting around the capital was sanguinary.

When the first Roman soldiers entered the stronghold, the inhabi­tants set their homes afire, while their leaders poisoned themselves to avoid falling alive into the hands of the victors. Decebalus, followed by a retinue of noblemen, took refuge in the mountains, without however ceasing to fight; finally, he was forced into killing himself with his own dagger only to avoid being taken prisoner. Trajan sent Decebalus’ head to Rome.

The second Daco-Roman war lasted two years, since the year 105 till 106; this time, however, the Romans’ victory was complete and Dacia was turned into a Roman province. The spoils of war taken by Trajan were considerable: Dacia s gold saved the finances of the em­pire. Colonists from throughout the empire, extoto orbe, rushed towards that “California of the ancient world”. Realising that it was only by rapid deep-going Romanisation that Dacia could be protected from the barbarians, Trajan encouraged that prodigious colonisation. Flourish­ing towns and roads would be built, giving the population a feeling of perfect security. The garrison in Dacia was very big and it boasted the best contingents of provincial troops next to those in Brittany. “The Roman civilisation is equally spread by the host of merchants, craftsmen, businessmen, and civil servants of all kind, and especially by the colonists who come for their overwhelming part from provinces Romanised a long time before, Dalmatia in particular”*. Likewise, a great number of colonists come from Italy herself.



Dacia’s turning into a Rqmanprovince had enormous consequences for that territory, as once with Trajan’s legions the Latin West, too, penetrated into those regions. Until men Dacia had inclined towards the Hellenic East; from now onwards, she began to turn to the West. The civilising influx had changed. The Dacian population merged with the Roman colonists and, as vulgar Latin was a universal instrument and on top of it the language of the conqueror, Dacia, too, adopted that idiom. Here, as elsewhere in the empire, assimilation was fast. It nad taken a century to Romanise Spain and Gaul, but here, unlike in other regions, the Romanisa­tion did not mean a radical change of the autochthonous ethnic substance. The Dacian learned to speak Latin, but he preserved his customs, his way of life and ancestral virtues. The new towns worshipped the gods of the empire, but in villages and in the mountains the cult of Zalmoxis perpet­uated, even if, later on, under a different name. That is why when the first Christian missionaries arrived to bring the new faith to the Daco-Romans, the latter embraced Christianity at once and before others did so: Zalmoxis had paved the way for the new faith for centuries…



Nevertheless, while the Romanisation and civilisation were under way, an opposite process began to take shape at the northern border of Dacia: the great barbarian invasions that would eventually lead to the downfall of the magnificent imperial edifice. The barbarian world of the Goths was in full movement. They carried on several inroads into Dacia, but were defeated by Emperor Decius. Their pressure, however, proved to be increasingly stronger. The Gotns, Carpiaas and free Dacians, who lived north of Dacia, attacked the province without respite. Under Aurelian the situation got out ^1 control and the great emperor decided to leave Dacia, which he did in two stages (AD 271-272). That meant a total renunciation of the Caesarean expan­sionist policy and a return to the strategic and political principle of Augustus: maintenance of the empire within its naturally fortified borders. While abandoning Dacia, Aurelian was saving the empire, because the Danube was a natural frontier very easy to defend, and the Romans continued to have real authority over a certain part of the territory on the left bank of the river. On the other hand, nobody really believed that the province was being abandoned for good, but hoped to come back one day. The future, however, would dash that hope …



Well, who were those who crossed the Danube back into Moesia when the order to evacuate the province came? Undoubtedly, the legions, the civil servants, the rich people, some of the merchants … “One cannot believe that there was a general evacuation”, argues Leon Homo, the outstanding historian, in his work on Aurelian’s reign. “A great number of the earlier inhabitants must have stayed, as they lived in good understanding with the Goths and therefore had no interest in leaving the province. As a matter of fact, a general evacuation would have probably been impossible without a new war, because the Goths would not have agreed to let the whole civilian population leave”7. It was precisely the latter who tilled the land, because the invading Goths, who were nomads and had never occupied themselves with agriculture, used to live on the work of those they conquered. And, after all, why would they leave ?



South of the Danube life was very hard; in Dacia, one could come to terms with the invader, to whom a tribute in seeds or cattle was paid; on the other hand, in Moesia there was the Roman tax-collector, and, on top of it, life was unstable because it was there that the most bitter fighting against the barbarian invaders took place even before Aurelian’s time. Transylvania and Oltenia were more densely populated regions. No inscription speaking of refugees from Dacia has been found south of the Danube and it is unlikely that whole masses of people had been evacuated without leaving any trace of their presence in those regions. Let us not forget that Dacia was a very densely populated region. Where were one  million refugees supposed to find shelter? In what towns and villages? No, the Daco-Roman peasants and shepherds remained in tneir lands much like they had done when the invasion of the Cimmerians and the Celts occurred, and like they were to stay in front of the Tartars and Turks centuries afterwards. To defend themselves, they had a weapon that none of the invaders could have had: the knowledge of their own country. Dacios inhaerent montibus (”The Dacians stick to the mountains”), an ancient writer said; they found an excellent shelter in the impenetrable forests covering the mountains not only in front of the barbarian threat emerged at the dawn of the Christian era, but all throughout their history.

The forest is a brother to the Romanian”, a most popular saying with the descendants of the Daco-Romans says.



Formation of the Romanian People

The mountains and the forests had an enormous contribution to guaranteeing Dacq-Roman continuity in Dacia. In those times, you could cross the entire country, from the Carpathians to the Black Sea, without ever having to leave the forest. One might write a lot of volumes about the role played by the forest in the life of the Romanian people. References to the forest are common place in the Romanian folklore, and the Romanians are the only people in this part of Europe to use the green leave as a musical instrument.

The Goths were the masters of Dacia for as long as a century, that is till the year 375. Meanwhile, the Romanisation of the Daco-Romans went on, because the links between the two banks of the Danube were never severed. The masters of the land, the barbarian Goths, were few in numbers; while they managed to paralyse the life of big towns, they could do nothing against the millenary rural civilisation. In villages, the Daco-Roman life went on, the Goths themselves being interested in :hat it did so, because the richness of the country was their only means of subsistence. On the other hand, the peaceful coexistence of the invading Germanic peoples with the autochthonous population has been attested to by archaeological discoveries (joint necropolises, etc.).



During the same interval, the christianisation of the Daco-Romans occurred. Wulfila, a missionary who came from south of the Danube, began to preach the Gospel in Dacia, using both Gothic and Latin. He preached in the Gothic language for the “masters”; but then for whom did he preach in Latin if not for the common people, the only ones able to understand that idiom? This is another proof of Roman continuity north of the Danube. In the 4th century the christianisation of the Daco-Romans was under way. A Christian inscription in Latin dating back to the 4th century has been recently found in Transylvania. Nothing, however, prevents us from believingthat adepts of Chris­tianity had existed in Dacia a long time before. The Daco-Romans did not know mass baptising, by order of their rulers, as it happened with most of the neighbouring peoples. The christianisation of the Daco-Romans took the form ol a spiritual process: they were converted to Christianity by missionaries and not by threats; and finally,’ they were the first Christians in this part of Europe. Other neighbouring peoples would be baptised only a few centuries later.



The earliness of Daco-Roman Christianity is attested to by the
Latin character of the Romanian Christian vocabulary. In Romanian
one says biserica (church) from the Latin word basilica, Dumnezeu
(God) from Dominus Deus, cuminecatura (communion) from
cumunicationem, a boteza (to baptise) from baptizare, crestin (Chris­
tian) from christianus, cruce (cross) from crux, pacat (sin) from pecatum,
rugaciune (prayer) from rogationem, inger (angel) from angelus, a
raposa (to pass away) from repausare – the idea of deceasing or of dying
including that of repose, rest -, Paste (Easter) from Paschae, etc. The
Latin origin of Romanian Christianity is also confirmed by the name of
some important holidays or feasts. Palm Sunday is called in Romanian
Floriile, from the Latin term Florilia, the pagan feast of spring. Rusaliile
(Whitsun) derives its name from the old Latin feast of spring called
Rosalia. The same can be witnessed with the Romanian word sarbatoare
(feast), whose origin is pagan Latin: servatoria.

It was Christian belief that helped the peoples north of the Danube survive the new waves of invaders, because one century after Dacia had been conquered by the Goths the most terrible invasion ever known to Europe until then took place: the Huns’ invasion (AD 375). Dacia was again shattered by those Asian barbarians. The last remnants of urban civilisation were destroyed and part of the population was slaughtered. The rest took shelter in the mountains and forests and waited for the tempest to pass. As a matter of fact, after the death of Atilla in AD 453, the Huns empire pulverised, and Dacia was occupied by a new barbarian tribe of Germanic origin: the Gepids. Life was back again: the number of villages grew, agriculture was flourishing and vineyards began to bear fruit again.



The Gepids were a peaceful people (quieta gens) and, like their predecessors, concerned with having the natives thriving, as it was the latter who were paying. However, the domination of the Gepids was short-lived: in AD 566 their place was taken by the Longobards and the Avars. Right:, after their victory, the Longobards left for Italy, leaving the Avars as the absolute masters of Dacia. But they, too, did not have enough time to enjoy the conquest, because another barbarian tribe took their place: the Slavs.



The barbarian waves succeeded on another for over three cen­turies. Indeed, the Slavs were not the last to come. After their arrival, other tribes, too, prepared to enter European history. But they could not do anything against the “people of the land”, the true masters of Dacia. And they could not do anything because they were foreigners, intruders, because they did not belong to those places, because they did not feel drawn to the landscape that was to mould, starting with the third millenium before Christ, the souls of the autochthonous population. The barbarians were bearers of a different “vision of life” (Weltanschauung), they had different customs and a different way of life. They were perhaps still nostalgic about Asia, Eurasia or the north of Europe… Someway or another, the landscape of Dacia, the sky, the forests, the mountains, the people, everything looked strange to them. And they were to yield in front of that strange environment as were to yield the Slavs, too, and the other barbarians who came at a later date. When not exterminated by other barbar­ians or following struggles with groups of rebels, they just withered away in the mass of tne autochthonous population. On the other hand, they were never too numerous: a few tens of thousands, perhaps even fewer, among hundreds of thousands of native Daco-Romans.



Nevertheless, the barbarian invasions were to have a consider­able influence upon Dacia’s destiny in that they cut the links with the Latin West. A few centuries before, Rome had felt attracted to that province imbued whith Greek cultural influences; subse­quently, isolated from Rome, Dacia turned for support to another part of the empire, the Byzantium, or the Rome of the East. The Daco-Romans north of the Danube maintained contact with Latinity also through the Eastern Roman world in the Balkan Peninsula.

A secret rhythm occurred in the history of the Dacians and of their descendants, the Romanians, already in the remotest times: two poles, the Latin West and the Hellenised East, would alternate in influencing the formation and fate of this people. In the case of the Villanqvans of the prehistorical epoch, it was Italy that was present in Dacia; in the case of the Greeks of the 7th century BC, it was the Near East that became a centre of cultural irradiation; starting with Trajan, Dacia was integrated into the Roman Empire and the Latin culture for ever. The barbarians changed again her orientation, with Byzan­tium becoming a centre of influence throughout the Middle Ages. Finally, in early 18th century the Latin West would become again an attraction point and a fertile source of influence in the spiritual and political life of the Romanian people.



Let us not wander from the subject, but get back to the epoch of the barbarian invasions: once their direct links with Rome had been broken, the Daco-Romans turned to Byzantium. Well, at the time Byzan­tium still meant the Roman world, being part of the Roman Empire. Vestiges of the persistence of the Roman world can be seen throughout the territory of Dacia: a lot of Roman and Byzantine objects have been dug out all over the province. Great Emperor Justinian (527-565) even set up an archbishopric (Justiniana Prima), the jurisdiction of which also covered Dacia. Beginning with the 2nd century the specific ceramics is but a continuation of the Daco-Roman pottery of the Roman period, exerting its influence even upon the barbarian craftsmen.



Obviously, starting with the great crisis facing the Roman Empire in the 3rd century, the tendency towards a sort of provincial “individuality” become obvious everywhere. Rome ceased to be the centre of gravity, which instead was shifted to the provinces.

The immediate outcome of that transfer could be seen in the artistic creation: art became more individualised, more local, using again the pre-Roman autochthonous stylistic traditions. In some respects, one witnesses a return to prehistory or, if you wish, to the legacy bequeathed” by the forefathers who had” lived prior to the Roman conquest. That phenomenon occurred in England, Gaul, Dacia. The great crisis of the 3rd century spurred the revival of a rural aristocracy in all the provinces 01 the empirr, a revival that coincided with the decay of towns and the flourishing of rural life. One can witness this provincial “individuality , recently dealt with by the Romanian historian Gheorghe Bratianu in a comprehensive essay5, in Dacia as well. With the ceramics, there is a gradual return to the local tradition. In Dacia more than anywhere else, the beginning of the Middle Ages meant a new prehistorical epoch. This accounts perhaps for the miraculous endurance of the Daco-Romans, because the revival of “individuality” in Dacia awakened the spirit of the old Geto-Dacian culture, the vitality of the forerunners, the mystical virility of Zalmoxis. The autochthonous spirit is always extremely enduring: centuries of foreign domination, hundreds of terrible wars did not succeed in annihilating it. The history of the Romanians in Transylvania stands proof in this respect. When the Slavs arrived, the Eastern Roman world stretched, without any dilution in terms of continuity, from the north of Dacia as far as the Adriatic and Black Seas. Moreover, beginning with the 4th century all those regions were called Romania. But there came the Slay avalanche, which was to break that great ethnic and linguistic entity. Unlike the other barbarian invaders, the Slavs were so numerous that they could afford to remain in the conquered territory. After bitter fighting, they became the masters of the land. Their supremacy lasted for centuries, but meanwhile their assimilation by a part of the autochthonous population went on. The masters, in their turn, were brought into submission – through culture, language, mar­riages – and when the first Romanian principalities emerged during the llm century, the miracle had already taken place: the Slavs had been assimilated, and the people living in the territory of Dacia was the Romanian people, who had preserved all the characteristic features of their forefathers, the Dacians, and were speaking a Latin language: the Romanian.



Characteristic Features of the Romanian Language and Civilisation

The 4th century Romania had been irrevocably broken. The Romanised provinces south and west of the Danube were turned into Slav regions. The Serbians settled in ancient Illyricum, while the Bulgars, a Slav people that had undergone Asian influences, in Moesia. At that time the Romanians were already an island of Latinity among Slavs. Their only neighbours who were not Slavs were the Hungarians, who arrived from Asia and settled in the Tisza Plain in late 9th century.

There has been much talk, and with good reason, about the “historic miracle” represented by this Latin people which has managed to survive in the eastern extremity of Europe and to preserve untouched the characteristic features of its ancestors. In­deed, anthropological studies have placed the Romanians among the Latin peoples, clearly differentiated from the Balkan peoples. The area where this people was formed seems to be on either side of the Carpathians. “The populations of Romania are classified in terms of the sanguine type and in relation to a Romanian nucleus rich in European elements, mainly located in the mountainous centre of Transylvania”9, says Professor George Popoviciu.



The above assertion is confirmed by linguistic facts, because Professor Gamillscheg places the cradle of the Romanian language and its “germinative cell” (Keimzelle) in the eastern part of Transylvania10. Indeed, it is there that not only the Roman but also the Dacian names of settlements and rivers have been preserved to the day (the name of the locality of Abrud = Abruttum; the Cris rivers = Crisia; the town of Turda is the old Dacian Turidava, etc.}.

Ethnic continuity is even more obvious witn the folk costumes. Today, the Romanian peasants dress exactly as the Dacians on Trajan’s column. In no other part of Europe has the rural population preserved the attire of 2,000 years ago. There are some types of houses that have come down to us from prehistory, while some villages in Transylvania still preserve the structure they use to have during the pre-Roman epoch.



Undoubtedly, another miracle is the Romanian language itself, the only Romance language to have preserved the enclitic article: instead of el lobo, del lobo, al lobo (the wolf, of the wolf, to the wolf) one says in Romanian lup, lupul etc. just like in Latin lu- lupus, lupum, lupi. Likewise, the Romanian language is the only Romance language that has no dialects. This amazing linguistic unity can be accounted for by the fact that in winter time the shepherds used to move their flocks from the Carpathian Mountains far down to the estuary of the Danube and the Black Sea coast in search of pastures. It is obvious that due to numerous inyasions, part of the inhabitants, particularly those living in the mountains, no longer occupied themselves with agriculture (agriculture can be practised in the Carpathian depressions up to 1,000 m altitude) but turned into a people of shepherds.



The morphology and syntax of the Romanian language are Latin, and the entire basic word stock is of Latin origin: family (om = homo; barbat = barbatus; muiere = mulier; parinte = parentem;, fiu = filius; fiica = filia;sora = soror; frate = frater; cumnat = cognatus; socru = socer; ginere = generem; nepot = nepos; nepotem, etc.); essential features (bun = bonus; frumos = formosus; tanar = tener; batran = veteranus, etc.); warfare (anma = arma; arc = arcus; sageata — sagitta; scut = scutum; coif = cufea; lupta = lucta; bataie — battalia; maciuca = matteuca; secure = securis, etc.); household and life in the countryside (casa = casa; sat = fossatum; ogor = ager; camp = campus; a ara = arrare;a.sapa = sappare; a semana = seminare; a culege = colliegere; grau = granua; ei = milium; orz = hordem;.spic = spicum; graunte = granutia; moara = mola; faina = farina; paine = panis, etc.); animals (cane = canis;cal = caballus; armasar — armesarius; iapa = equa; porc = porcus; scroafa = escrofa; purcel — porcellus; gaina = gallina; porumbel = polumbus; lup, peste, urs, vultur, etc.); the shepherd’s life (pastor = pastor; pacurar = pecurarius;oaie = ovis; berbec = verbex; miel = agnellus; turma = turma; bou = bos; vaca = vacca; cornut = cornutus; taur = taurus; junc = juvencus; vitel = vittelus; a paste — pascere; fan = fenum; jug= jugum; capra = capra, etc.); cottage industry (lana = lana; a toarce = torquere; fir = fillum, etc.); parts of the body (ochi, nas, mana, ureche = auriculum, frunte, tampla, umar, palma, etc.); not only are the military, juridical, religious and meteorological terms of Latin origin, but sometimes they have been preserved in more archaic forms than in the other Romance languages. When it comes to establish whether a French or Italian word comes from the vulgar Latin of the imperial epoch or whether it had been introduced through the cultivated Latin language of the Middle Ages, therefore much later, the Italian Professor Matteo Bartoli recom­mends the test of the Romanian language: if the word can be found in the Romanian language, then we are justified to believe that it was a word commonly used By the Roman population11. The “miracle” of the Latinity of the Romanian language is the more so surprising when one thinks that all the other Romance languages would have their Latin character strengthened during the Midale Ages and even later under the influence of the Latin language used in the church, in universities, administrative offices, etc. Unlike them, the Romanian language con­tinued to be subject to Byzantine and Slav influence (through the religious administration and culture) till the 18th century.


The   Dawns  of  Romanian  History

As was but natural, the five centuries ofjpint inhabitation with the Slavs have left traces as regards both the Romanian people and its language. The Romanian people is a Roman people with Slavs addi­tions in the same way as the French, the Italians and the Spaniards are Romance peoples with Germanic sediments. After the Slavs had defeated the Daco-Romans through bitter fighting, they changed the toponymy of the conquered territory: there are many riyers, mountains and villages that have Slav names. However, like all their predecessors, the Slavs were influenced by the autochthonous element: the Daco-Roman women managed to assimilate a considerable number of Slavs through marriages, the men obtained the right to enter the ruling class for military merits, and thereby to belong to it.

In the beginning, the Daco-Romans were “slaves” in the lands occupied by the new masters; the very name of “Romanian” had a deprecating sense from the social point of view, that of a man tied to the land. Later on, after a lot of struggles with the other barbarians, they came not only to “be appreciated by their “masters”, the Slav rulers, but they were even summoned to fight by their side. One of the first Romanian names recorded by the chronicles, Gelu of Transylvania (12th century), was seemingly the ruler of a Slavo-Romanian prin­cipality. The Daco-Romans assimilated the Slays, but they also civilised them to the effect that many of the words pointing to a rather advanced cultural level are words transmitted bv the Daco-Romans to the Slavs.



Part of the Slav mass crossed the Danube and ultimately gave birth to the Serbian and Bulgarian nations. Compact groups of Daco-Romans have survived everywhere in the Balkan Peninsula. The provinces south of the Danube became independent in the wake of a conflict with the emperor of Byzantium. The Asen brothers, Romanians by origin, were the founders of the second Romanian- Bulgarian Empire (1197-1258).

“Our much beloved brother in Christ, lonitza, illustrious king of Romanians and Bulgarians”, Pope Innocent III addressed him in a letter dated 1204. A rather impressive number of Romanians have survived in Macedonia and Istria to our davs. It is through these isles of Latinity – more numerous, of course, in the early Middle Ages -, spread from the Danube down to the Aegean Sea, that the Romanians in Dacia never lost contact with Byzantium. And this was undoubtedly the result of the fact that to them Byzantium was the successor of Rome, a centre irradiating civilisation, the live source of the Christian faith, the fulcrum of the civilised world.



There are few documents available about the life of the Romanians during the Middle Ages. It was only after the Tartar invasions that the name of Romanians began to be mentioned by the chroniclers. This is quite understandable if one thinks that the natives did not play a political role and chroniclers focused only on conquerors. Dacia was called Gothia even after the Goths had abandoned her territory, and Sclavonia, on account of the Slav invasion, much like the Romans called Scythia that part of Dacia once ruled over by Scythian kings.

The Romanians saw themselves compelled to go on with the hard life their Daco-Roman ancestors had lived, as they had to defend themselves against new invaders all the time. Actually, Dacia never ceased to be the gate of invasions. The barbarians were followed in by other barbarian peoples, who endeavoured to conquer the ancient Dacia Felix and to force their way to the south or to Central Europe: the Magyars, the Tartars and the Turks. The Romanian territory was appreciated not only in itself, for its riches, but also for the key-position, of incomparable strategic value, it held. Indeed, he who takes hold of the Danube course masters the communication ways linking Central Europe to the Near East, Crimea to Constantinople. An army that attacked Dacia from the south secured for itself the road to the very heart of Europe. This  would happen several centuries later when, curbing down the resistance put up by the Romanian forces, who though small in numbers had Fought valiantly, the Turks succeeded in reaching Vienna (1683).



Once the last groups of Slays had been assimilated, the Romanians set up a number of political formations that were called knezates, when they were small, and voivodates, when they were larger, as a result of the agglutination of several knezates.

The population was placed under the authority of a ruler, elected to make justice in time of peace and to have military prerogatives in the wartime. Such voivodates – and their rulers – are mentioned at times, but one cannot consider them as states proper yet. It is only after the great Tartar invasion of 1241 that we learn about two great independent Romanian principalities: Moldavia, between the Carpathians and the Dniestr, and Wallachia (Muntenia), between the great bend of the Danube and the Black Sea.

Those principalities were born from the need to defend the territory against the barbarians and all the nomads coming from the East. Politically, upon its birth the Romanian nation was forced to assume the mission of a frontier people.



True, hardly had the small principality of Wallachia (Muntenia), founded and consolidated by the energetic family of the Bessarabs, won its independence and got rid of Hungarian sovereignty, through the annihilation of Charles Robert’s army m the Carpathians, that in 1330 one witnesses the fast expansion of the newly-formed State towards the estuary of the Danube and the Black Sea. In late 14th centurythe prince of Muntenia called himself “master [...] over either side of Podunavia, and even farther, to the Great Sea”. That was the first Christian dynasty founded north of the Danube.



A few years later (1343), the groundwork of a second Romanian State, Moldavia, was laid by Prince Bogdan, who had abandoned his estate in northern Transylvania (a province under Magyar sovereignty) and crossed the Carpathians in order to be able to enjoy full political freedom. Moldavia soon acquired the features of a frontier State, of a defensive military body that had to cope with the Tartar invasions pouring from the East.”[...] The nomads always come from the East, while the State and nation founders find their support in the Car­pathians, only toj descend along the watercourses from the mountains down to the sea” , George Bratianu writes with good reason.



The Moldavian voivodes would have a number of fortresses with an East aspect built up on the bank of the Dniestr; from Hotin to Cetatea Alba (Akkerman), those fortresses would defend the borders  of the new Christian State against the nomads coming from the steppe. As frontier peoples, the Romanians of those two principalities would enter modern history with an as superb as devastating mission, that of defending the Latin-Western civilisation and Christianity against the Slav-Turanic threat. They would accomplish their mission at the cost of enormous sacrifices: for centuries on end the Romanians would terribly and anonimously bleed during intermittent struggles against the Turks and the Uralo-Slavs. Meanwnile, the West would find the necessary respite to heal its wounds, to strengthen and thus prepare itself for the future European hegemony.






LANDMARKS   OF   THE   ROMANIAN HISTORY

Europe in Front of Islam




The historic mission of the peoples is not always haloed by the same glamour. There are nations whose role in history is so obvious that nobody has ever thought to question it. But there are also less happy nations, who perform quite disagreeable missions without anybody noiticing it. A discreet, obscure role like the one played by the Daco-Romans descendants, the Romanians.

Ignored, or misunderstood at the best, the life of these nations is more intense. In addition to its tragism, their history is transfigured, one may say, by a permanent divine presence. These people do not know the respite, calmness and joy of creating in time. Incessantly attacked, they can only think while defending themselves. Their history is more than a series of struggles for independence or honour: it is a permanent war, for centuries on end, for their own survival. In each battle they risk everything: their right to life, to religion, to their language and culture, God is by their side each moment, because each moment they run the risk of disappearing for good and all.




The Romanians will assume that role, a role that is not manifest in ropean history; they will know the tragedy of living each moment of their life as if it were the last. A frontier people, the Romanians were subject to the most terrible barbarian invasions during the period they formed as a people, only to have, once they had organised their State, to cope with another big Asiatic threat – the Turks – for centuries on end. Nowadays, the historians discover the tragedy of the Romanians and of the peoples living in Southeast Europe, which bleed for five centuries in order to prevent the Islamic colossus from penetrating into the heart of Europe.



Islam threatened the very existence of Europe twice. The first time during the fulminating invasion of the Arabs, who crossed the Gibraltar Strait in AD 711, occupied Spain in AD 713 and took hold of Narbonne, threatening to conquer Aquitaine, in AD 720. It was due to the victory obtained by Charles Martel at Poitiers in AD 732 that the north of France was saved, and to Charlemagne that the Arabs were stopped in Spain.



The second time, Islam attacked Europe through its other extremity: Byzantium and the Balkan Peninsula. This time they were not fanatical Arabs, but a Turanic-Altaic population, the Turks, who were more ruthless, more ferocious and more numerous. They emerged in the history of Europe at the time of the first crusade: it is against them, the Seldjukian Turks, that the Western crusaders, on their way to Syria and Palestine, fought most violent battles. During the 13th century, Genghis Khan pushed the Turks back to the Euphrates, an area where the Turks multiplied and developed. Once the Tartar danger was over, they reappeared in Asia Minor. At the time, the Byzantine emperors had just conquered back Con­stantinople from the crusaders and were too exhausted to be able to cope with the Turks successfully. Osman attacked them in Asia Minor: In 1305 he occupied Nicaea and in 1326 Broussa, where he set up his capital. In 1340 the only Byzantine possession on the shores of Asia Minor was the town of Scutari. The Turks kept advancing, taking advantage of the weakness and confusion of the Christian world. In 1346 they settled in Thrace; in 1360 they moved their capital to Adrianople; in 1389 they defeated the Serbs at Kosovo, and in 1393 they took hold of Trnovo, the Bulgarians’ capital. And while their successes grew so did their barbarous acts: killings, plunders, destruction of churches, deportation of the population, conversion of the inhabitants to Islamism by violence, all that kept repeating endlessly in Southeast Europe.



In his by now classic work Mahomet et Charlemagne, Henri Pirenne, the Belgian historian, demonstrates that the Germanic invasions did not deal a deadly blow at the Mediterranean unity of the ancient world, which was destroyed once with the fast and unexpected advance of Islamism in the 8th century. “This advance resulted in the definitive separation of the East from the West, which put an end to Mediterranean unity. Africa and countries like Spain, which continued to participate in the Western community, now gravitated in the orbit of Baghdad. A different religion and a different culture emerged in all fields of life. The Western Mediterranean, now turned into a Muslim lake, ceased to be a route favouring commerce and the exchange of ideas, the way it had always been before”.

Broken up in the 8th century, through the penetration of Islam to the Mediterranean Sea and the Iberian Peninsula, the European uniity was threatened with definitive disappearance with the fulminating advance of the Turks in the 14th century. This time the Islamic danger is by far greater than it had been six centuries before. It menaced to short-circuit the direct links between Constantinople and the West and, annihilating the political organisations of the Romanians, Hungarians and Poles, to intercept the road leading to the heart of Europe, the other hand, it was to follow the route of the Tartars, Huns and Avars, though the starting point would be different. Meanwhile, what were the Western great powers doing? They quarrelling among themselves as usual. The armed conflict between the Western crusaders and the Byzantine emperor in the 13th century had considerably weakened the empire in Constantinople, Palace plots and revolutions, theological disputes and treason were pushing Byzantium to the edge of the precipice and nobody realised  how serious the danger was. In order to satisfy some personal ambitions, a number of princes had even allied themselves with the enemy of Christianity. In 1343, Emperor Cantacuzene, at the time warring with John Palaeologue, whom he wanted to depose, married his daughter to Turk in order to secure the latter’s support against his rival. Two years laterr, the Turks were laying foot on the shores of Europe.



It was only when the Turks got close to the Danube that the West began to realise the gravity and imminence of the danger. Unfortunately, it was only the Pope that understood; the others -wheter kings, princes or barons – would go on with their ridiculous claims and ambitions. When they finally decided to fight, they lacked command unity – a fact that we are going to demonstrate further below and failed to repel the Turkish threat. Luckily, by the Danube there were the Romanian principalities that would bear the brunt of the struggle, untill the limits of their endurance, for centuries on end.. History assessed, even if too late, the consequences of the conflicts between Byzantium and the crusaders, and of the Western political forces ignoring the Asiatic threat in the Balkan Peninsula. Europe lost Constantinople and the Straits; a great part of the continent lived in isolation from the Western culture for centuries; Christian peoples paid in blood and countless sacrifices for the lack of foresight of the Western political leaders. Only the Pope understood that the Turkish invasion meant the emer­gence of a terrible Asiatic force in history, a force that was really able to shatter Europe from its foundations and to destroy her.

Mircea the “Old” (1386-1418), Great Voivode of Muntenia

The Romanian people of the ancient province of Dacia was organised in three political formations: the great voivodate of Muntenia (Waflachia), the great voivodate of Transylvania, under the sovereignty of the Hungarian Crown, and the great voivodate of Moldavia. The Carpathians, a true backbone of the Romanian people, helped the population of Dacia survive the terrible hurricane of the barbarian invasions, while facilitating, on the other nand, the plurality of the political organisations. The tendency shown by those formations was to unite into a single State, as it had happened many a time in history long before the union of the two Danubian prin­cipalities (1866)* and the annexation of Transylvania (1918). However, the fulfilment of that aspiration was prevented by a lot of vicissitudes. Let us remind some of them.



Seeing that the Turks were advancing into the Balkan Peninsula and towards the Danube, the prince of Muntenia understood the im­minence of the danger and did not passively wait to be attacked. At the time, the ruler of Muntenia was one of the greatest sovereigns the Romanian people ever had: Mircea, called the “Old”, due to his long reign. Mircea’s foreign policy was dominated by one concern – the Islamic danger – and pursued just one goal: a Christian alliance. In 1389, when the Serbian voivode Lazar was waging war against Sultan Murad, Mircea sent the former a contingent of Romanian troops in support. The battle, which had become famous, took place at Kosovo; the sultan was assassinated in his tent by a fanatical Serb, and the command of the army was taken by the sultan’s son, Bayezid the “Lightning”, who defeated the Christians. Lazar died a heroic death in the battlefield. Conquered, Serbia finished by becoming a Turkish province, and would win her independence back only five centuries later.


In 1393 Bayezid won a resounding victory over the Bulgarians, in the wake of which Bulgaria was turned into a pashalik. Bayezid attacked him in 1394, when the two armies met at Rovine. The battle was extremely grim, the Turks were repelled and sustained great casualties. Unfortunately, the Romanian army was too exhausted to be able to capitalise on the victory and to liquidate the remnants of the Mohammedan forces. Shortly afterwards, Mircea was attacked again, this time by superior forces, and was forced to beat a retreat. He concluded an alliance treaty with Sigismund, King of Hungary, and the two armies managed to push the Turks beyond the Danube.



Those events were powerfully echoed in the West. The conquest of Serbia and Bulgaria disquieted all the European sovereigns. More­over, the resistance put up by Mircea had shown that the Muslims were anything but invincible. The moment had come for them to intervene. The crusade spirit was brought to life again, and Sigismund announced the organisation of a large-scale expedition against Bayezid. Contin­gents of cavalry troops began to pour in from all corners of Europe: the Duke of Burgundy with 6,000 horsemen; then the French, the Germans and the English under the command of the Duke of Lancaster. Venice, too, offered to contribute with her army.

The alliance was joined even by the emperor of Byzantium. In the summer of 1396, an army of 100,000 men set out, making for the Danube. None of them was familiar with the strategy employed by Bayezid. Only Mircea, who had fought against him, knew it. He offered at once to attack Bayezid with his Romanian army in the plain at Nicopolis, but the Duke of Burgundy claimed that honour for himself and his cavalry. He bravely advanced to the Turkish camp, but was soon surrounded and taken prisoner along with his troops, which were decimated. The dis­aster he met with had enormous repercussions for the Christian camp. The next one to assume the attack was King Sigismund, but his troops, too, were surrounded and decimated, while he himself made a hair­breadth escape. The battle of Nicopolis ended in a complete failure for the Christians. Only few of them survived the catastrophe, because the Turks massacred the prisoners as well. The Christian league broke up, and Mircea now waited for the unavoidable retaliation. Indeed, one year later, in 1397, a Turkish army crossed the Danube and attacked the Romanians. And there where the brave European contingents had failed the Romanian prince and his peasants did not: the lurks were defeated and forced to back out in confusion. In 1400 Mircea defeated them one more time: out of a Turkish army of some 60,000 men that had made an inroad into Hun­gary and claimed to cross Muntenia, only 6,000 ultimately managed to reach safety. Those victories secured a period of peace for the Romanian prince.



How can this miracle be accounted for? It should be noticed that, above anything else, the Romanians fought for their land and their own lives, while at Nicopolis the contingents of European knights had been hardly actuated by the feudal ideals of glory and military distinction. Moreover, Mircea was familiar with the way the Muslims fought, there­fore the idea of being taken unaware was completely out of the question. Likewise, one should not forget that, like all Romanian military com­manders, Mircea relied on an army of peasants. As urban life and the big municipal centres had been destroyed by the barbarians a long time before, the Romanian principality did not have what is commonly designated as feudal cavalry. Thie country was defended not by military, but by the people as a whole. This meant that the prince could rely on a very large rural army, which cost almost nothing, because each peasant brought along his own weapons and victuals. Once the war was over and the invader routed, the peasant would go back to his hereditary occupa­tion. Obviously, in most cases he had to rebuild his household from scratch, as in the meantime his village had been destroyed and his family scattered. The Romanians resorted to passive defence, much like their Daco-Roman ancestors used to do during the great barbarian invasions: the women, the elderly and the children would take refuge in forests and in the mountains, taking along as many supplies as they could carry, and if the village happened to lie in the route of the invader, they would set it on fire, poison the wells, and destroy the cereals they could not conceal in underground hiding places. That tragical life, full of uncer­tainty, lasted for centuries, but it helped the Romanian people survive by strengthening its endurance capacity.



After the victory won in 1400, Mircea reorganised the country, promoted commerce with the Western peoples ana had several monas­teries built up. Upon the death of Bayezid (1403), held in captivity by Timur Lenk or Tamerlane, the Khan of the Mongols, the sons of the former began to fight each other over the succession. At the time, the Romanian prince was strong enough to interfere in the domestic polio of the Mohammedans, by supporting Murad, who was eventually elected sultan in 1411. It was a glorious time for the Romanian prince: unfortunately, it did not last too long: in 1413 another son of Bayezid Mohammed, ascended the throne, and the wars between Turks ard Romanians recommenced.

In 1417 Mohammed attacked the fortresses on the bank of the Danube and his army crossed the river into Muntenia. An old man left alone in front of the invader, Mircea saw himself compelled to acknowledge the enemy’s superiority. He pledged to pay an annual tribute, thereby preserving the country s domestic freedom. He died one year later. Princep’s inter Christianas fortissimus et acerrimus (”the most powerful and bravest of the Christian princes”), Turkish chronicler Leunclavius:J called him. He was unquestionably the bravest and most versatile of all Christian princes, because by the firm military resistance he put up, leaving aside the final defeat, he succeeded in preserving Romanian territorial integrity and political autonomy. By resorting to resistance at any costs in front of an apparently unavoidable threat, Mircea saved the existence of the Romanian State of Muntenia. The foreign policy of all the princes of Muntenia had already been mapped out: resistance to the end, to the limits of one’s power, and acceptance of submission only when the Turks were ready to content themselves with an annual tribute in gold rather than come up with some humiliat­ing claim.

The treaties signed, called “capitulationem”, (latin for peace treaty), the turks agreed, in excgange for a tribute,  to preserve the independence of the romanian principalities., the faith of their subjects and the prices succession system. The price will be elected by the nobles, there will be no preaching of  Islam an no mosques on their teritory, the muslims cannot own land here.

The Crusade Spirit:

John Corvinus and Stephen the Great

The resistance put up by Mircea saved not only the existence of Muntenia, but also the formation and consolidation of the Romanian I State of Moldavia, which he protected against a possible Turkish attack. * Alexander the Good (1400-1432), the great Prince of Moldavia, had the respite  to organise his country during his long and relatively peaceful reign. He carried on an overtly defensive policy in order to avoid being overrun by the powerful neighbours like Poland and Hungary.

Unfortunately, the successors of Mircea and Alexander failed to preserve the glory of their predecessors, because struggles over the succession began in both Romanian states. As the succession system was not rigorous enough, the crown could be claimed by any of the prince’s sons, whose claims were backed by boyars or by foreign forces. Pallace revolutions, the plots and struggles for succession caused a lot of trouble to both principalities. In 1457 Moldavia was paying a tribute to the Sultan just because the prince was afraid he might lose his throne…

The crusade spirit, however, continued to exist. It can be seen in a certain rhythm of the Romanians’ defensive actions in front of Islam: the three Romanian principalities would alternate in sustaining the fight against the pagans. After Mircea’s Muntenia, the next to take over the mission of facing the attack would be John Corvinus’ Transylvania. John, son of Voicu, a brave Romanian commander serving the King of Hungary, became master of an estate at Hunedoara. It was John Corvinus of Hunedoara, great voivode of Transylvania, who defeated two Turkish armies in 1442, then penetrated with his troops into the heart of the Balkans (1443) and successfully defended the fortress of Belgrade (1456) against Mohammed II, the conqueror of Constantinople. John Corvinus of Hunedoara polarised the energies of all Romanians in Transylvania: he was joined by contingents of Romanian peasants, led by brave com­manders such as Simion of Cuhea, Gheorghe Mares, Mihai of Talu, Bogdan of Zalau, Dan Susca, etc., coming from as far as the parts of Maramures. John Corvinus enjoyed an enormous influence in the other two Romanian principalities. The Moldavian Prince Bogdan wrote him in 1450: “My country and yours are just one country”. The glory of John Corvinus, that of having been the only Christian prince to withstand Mohammed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, spread all over Europe. Ab unico Christi fortissimo athleta lohanne voivoda, the “most valiant among Christ’s champions”, Pope Calixtus III called him. And Pope Pius II mentioned in one of his documents the Romanian nationality of the hero: non tarn Hungaris quam Valachis ex quibus natus erat gloriam auxit (”he increased the glory of the Romanians, among whom he was born, rather than that or the Hungarians”).

The very year John Corvinus died (1456), the throne of Muntenia was ascended by one of the most bitter enemies of Islam, Vlad, also called the “Impaler”, due to the way in which he used to eliminate his foes : the torture of impaling. In 1462 he attacked the Turkish armies garrisoned by the Danube, annihilated them and, according to a con-temporary of the event, spread such terror that “he who has succeeded  in crossing into Anatolia should consider himself a lucky man”. Ob­viously, such an offence could not pass unpunished. Sultan Mohammed II, who had conquered Constantinople, could not tolerated an insult coming from a poor Romanian prince; he attacked Vlad that very year with a huge armv (chronicler Chalcochondil speaks of 250,000 men, but the figure is undoubtedly exaggerated). Vlad only had 10,000 men, but he knew so well the tactics of guerilla warfare that ultimately he inflicted great casualties upon the enemy. Mohammed’s army began to suffer from a lack of supplies, as Vlad kept attacking the supply routes. Eventually, the sultan decided to withdraw his troops. Unfortunately, Vlad’s brother, Radu the Handsome, accepted Mus­lim sovereignry’and usurped his throne. The career of one of the bravest Romanian princes was thus shortened through an act of felony.

Meanwhile, the mission of defending Christianity was taken over by the prince of Moldavia, Stephen, also called the “Great”. And indeed, he was the greatest Romanian ruler ever known. Stephen was not only a hero who waged forty wars during his long reign (1457-1504), in most of which he came off victorious, but also an extremely wise far-sighted statesman, who understood the historic mission of the Romanian people better than all his contemporaries. He was still very young when he took back his father’s throne from his father’s usurper, with armed help from his cousin, Vlad Tepes Dracula, but already at the time he felt he was called upon to accomplish a difficult and glorious mission, namely that of taking over the legacy of  Byzantiurn. In fact, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 had caused great commotion in the Christian world. Eastern Orthodoxy was now un­protected because the Greeks, the Bulgarians and the Serbs were under Turkish yoke, while the Russians counted even less as a political force. The only Orthodox Christians that had preserved their autonomy were the Romanians. Though tributary, by fits and starts, to the Porte, they had nevertheless preserved their independence. Prince Stephen did even more than that: he not only took over passively the legacy of Byzantium, but he also remade the Eastern Holy Empire. In other words, he recommenced the crusade, but the crusade of Moldavia rather than of Constantinople.

The Romanian voiyodes had already assumed the function of defenders of Eastern Christianity a long time before: they protected the monasteries and churches in the Balkan Peninsula, especially in Greece (the famous monasteries on Mount Athos), supported the clergy in the countries occupied by the Turks, offered shelter to Christian refugees, etc. The Byzantine culture, extinguished by now in its original centre, would be revived in a more brilliant form in the Romanian countries. Here it should be pointed out that, in terms of structure, that culture was not exclusively Greek, but also Latin. It was Stephen’s intention to revive the glory of Byzantium, that had collapsed under the blows of the Turks, in his own country. He dreamed to lead a new crusade for the reconquest of Constantinople.

But he was not just a dreamer: he was aware of the difficulties implied by that mission and carried on his plan by stages. After he had defeated the king of Hungary and after he had consolidated the borders with his Christian neighbours, Stephen ravaged the Turkish arrisons. Repraisals were not late in coming. In 1475, an army of 200,000 men, led by a famous general, Suleiman Pasha, crossed the Danube at Braila and began the invasion of Moldavia. Stephen contented himself with harassing the enemy, without attacking him yet. Once they arrived in a place he had chosen beforehand, a place surrounded by marshes lying at the foot of the hill on which there was the town of Vaslui, and while a thick fog was setting in, Stephen gave the order for the attack. The bulk of his troops had taken cover in a forest. The mission to begin the attack devolved upon a detach­ment (the strength of which was difficult to assess because of the fog) that had been concentrated right beyond the marshes. Con­vinced of their superiority, the Turks dashed at the enemy in that very direction. Then Stephen, together with the troops concealed in the forest, fell in their rear, destroyed their rearguard, disrupted their “regimental train” and inflicted heavy losses upon them. The chronicles say that 40,000 Turks were killed, several pashas were taken prisoners and a lot of flags were captured. The survivors beat the retreat towards the Danube, closely followed by the Moldavian cavalry, and decimated by cold and hunger. The pursuit lasted four days, and the spoils were enormous.

At a time when the Turks enjoyed tremendous military pres­tige, when their advance filled with terror the whole Europe, the reverberation of that victory must have been extraordinary high. Stephen and his Moldavians, whose names had been hardly retained by the West until then, became famous throughout the continent over night. The small principality lying down at the foot of the Carpathians, whose independence was rather precarious, was now for the Christian world a State many political men began to pin their hopes on”.

After the yictory, the Romanian prince ordered that public prayers for praising God should be held throughout the country, and that everybody kept a fast on bread and water for four days. He then ordered that a monastery be built up, for he was a religious man who always credited God with the honour of the triumph. He rewarded everybody who had cut a conspicuous figure during the battle, and ordered that some of the prisoners be impaled during a solemn meeting. “As many of these had offered to pay him enormous amounts of money as ransom, he told them this: ‘If you are as rich as that, why have you come to conquer my poor country?’”

However, Stephen knew that the sultan would seek to take revenge, and so he hurried to prepare his country for a new attack. He knew too well that he would not be able to withstand the sultan with his Moldavian troops alone. He needed reinforcements from all corners of the Christian world, and the crusade spirit itself had to be revived. This end in view, he sent all Christian princes a letter announc­ing his recent victorv, while nevertheless pointing to the need for European military collaboration. He told them how the emperor of the Turks,” who every day thinks about nothing else than how to subdue and destroy the entire Christian world”, had sent Suleiman Pasha along with an army of 120,000 men against him. “Upon seeing all this, We have taken up the sword and, with the help of Almighty God, We have faced the foes of the Christian world, We have defeated them, We have trampled them under foot and We have put them to the edge of Our sword, for which blessed be Our God. On nearing about this, the pagan emperor of the Turks decided to have his revenge and to come, in the month of May, with his head and all his might against Us and to subdue Our country, which is the gate of the Christian world and which God has spared so far [...] But if this gate, which is Our country, is lost – God forbids that -, then the entire Christian world will be in great danger. Therefore, we pray you to send us your chieftains to help Us against the enemies of the Christian world until it is not too late [...] As for us, we pledge, upon Our Christian faith and Our oath, to hold on and fight till death for the Christian belief, even if We were to lay down Our life, And this is what you, too, should do, at sea and on land, until with the help of God Almighty We will have cut off the enemy’s right hand”17.

It is quite difficult to find among the documents of the time a more deeper proof of the awareness of a historic mission and of the crusade spirit than this letter sent by the Romanian prince to the European sovereigns. Never has Stephen’s awareness that he was fighting for the entire Christian world been fully emphasised; he thought, and with good reason, that the Romanian country was a gate between two worlds: the barbarian world and the Christian civilisation. “If this gate is lost [...] then the entire Christian world will be in great danger”. Unfortunately, the prediction of the Romanian prince was to be proved true during the following century. Nowadays, we understand very well that in late 14th century the crusade spirit was gone for ever. It was in vain that Stephen hoped to revive and restore the Eastern Holy Empire. The letter he sent to the European sovereigns had no positive result. The Pope congratu­lated him on his “endeavours and zeal in defence of the Christian faith and in his fight against the treacherous sect of the Turks” and granted him the title of “Athleta Christi“, but apologised for being able to send him money only the following year, “on account of the cares that are lying heavy on me now”. And whatever other countries sent to Stephen was confiscated by the king of Hungary, jealous on the fame and prestige of the Romanian prince!

Once the moments of general joy over Stephen’s resounding victory were over, the Christian world was again divided by in-treagues and ambitions. Meanwhile, the enemy did not let the grass grow under its foot: an enormous mass of soldiers, headed by Mohammed II himself, set out to annihilate the insolent prince that dared to offend the conqueror pf Constatinople. The expedition began with the storming the storming of two naval fortresses – Chilia and Cetatea Alba – that were guarding the shores of the Black Sea and for the defence of which a lot ofRomanian blood had been shed for centuries on end. The Turks’ attack was of no avail, as they failed to conquer the two fortresses. As a result, the Turks decided to penetrate into inland Moldavia. What they came across on their way were just ashes and ruins. They advanced through ravaged, deserted and hostile coun­ties. Stephen had only his army of peasants, but he had had to let them go, because the Tartars had invaded the country from the East and the peasants had to be given the chance to defend their lands. As he had only 10,000 men, Stephen waited for the Turks at Valea Alba, near the mountains. On July 25, 1476 he attacked the enemy by surprise, hoping to spread panic among its ranks; the Turks, however, managed to tighten their ranks and then counterattacked, pushing the Romanian troops towards the forest. The battle was lost beforehand, and the stubborn resistance put up by Stephen’s horsemen did nothing but increase the number of casualties. The prince, accompanied by just a few small groups of fighters, took refuge in the mountains.

The road to Suceava, Moldavia’s capital, now lay open in front of the sultan. The town was conquered and burned, but the massive fortress whithstood the siege. The same thing happened with the other two fortresses, Hotin and Neamt, which were most violently besieged. In the meantime, Stephen was in the mountains, trying to bring his forces together. Soon he recommenced the guerilla warfare, harassing the Turkish armies and destroying their supplies. Hunger began to play havoc among the invading troops, and so did a plague that began to decimate them. Failing to curb down the Moldavians’ resistance, Mohammed ordered the retreat. Stephen’s peasants and horsemen began to pursue that exhausted decimated mass to the border, inflicting heavy losses upon it. The formidable army of Mohammed II, conqueror of Constantinople, was now a shadow of what it had been. Stephen preserved his throne, and Moldavia – her fortresses, frontiers and autonomy.

That had been a hard and decisive experience. Stephen understood that the crusade spirit had gone for ever. True, the European powers started to negotiate with the enemy of the Christian world. In 1476, King Casimir of Poland concluded an understanding with the sultan; the Venetians concluded peace in 1479; in 1483 Hungary concluded a non-aggression treaty tor five years with the Turks, it was in vain that Stehan wrote the Dodge of Venice in 1478, reminding him that he had not kept his promises, “for the Christian princes are fighting against each other instead of uniting to fight the pagan”. It was in vain that he reminded the Doge that “thanks to him many Christian princes had been living in peace for four years”; that the two fortified ports, Chilia and Cetatea Alba, were still two open gates for the Christian nations at the Black Sea, two ports thanks to which “Moldavia is a bulwark for Hun­gary and Poland”. It was to no purpose that he desperately wrote: “If God may want that I am not helped, then one of the following two things will most surely happen: either this country will perish, or I will be forced by circumstances to yield to the pagan. But this latter thing I will never do, because I would rather die a hundred thousand times than do this. I pin all mv hopes on you”.

In 1484 tne road to Stephen lay open in front of Sultan Bayezid. He besieged the two fortresses by the seaside, actually the only fortified points the Christian world had at the Black Sea, and succeeded in conquering them. That was a great loss for the Moldavian prince, as he was compelled to humiliate himself in front of the king of Poland for the sake of securing an ally. In 1486 he was again alone, but again victorious either, this time at  Scheia. That was his last victory over the Turks. Instead of helping him, the Poles concluded a peace treaty with the sultan at Kolomea in 1489. Three years later, after he had lost the fortresses at the sea, the brave “Athleta Christi” saw himself compelled to pay a tribute to the sultan.

Stephen spent the rest of his life trying to fortify the frontiers with his Christian neighbours. He possessed two small estates in Transylvania – Ciceu and Cetatea de Balta. In the wake of a successful war he waged against Poland, a war that had begun by an attack launched by John Albert, the new Polish king, Stephen took hold of Pocutia, a province in northern Moldavia. The life of that great Christian prince, disappointed with his dream – a crusade against the pagan -, was drawing to an end. An earlier  wound, which a Venetian physician had in vain tried to mend, reopened. Stephen died in 1504 at the age of 70. The whole country mourned him, as  it had understood that its best prince had gone.




Michael the Brave

and the Union of All Romanian Principalities

Twenty years after the death of Stephen the Great the people of Europe began to grasp the role played by the Romanian countries in defending the Western European Christian world. Quite true, once the Romanian bulwark had been overcome, the Turks made preparations to attack Hungary and Central Europe. The last Hungarian king, Louis II, made desperate efforts to save his country, exhausted by the abuses of the privileged classes. He seeked to secure the support of the king of Poland, sadly remembering the force of Moldavia, a “fortress and a bulwark for Hungary and Poland” (Terra ilia est velut propugnaculum et antemurale tarn regni Ungariae quam Poloniae). The king could always be found amidst the Romanians of Transylvania, from among whom he chose his most valiant military commanders. Romanian noblemen Fiatu and Racovita were granted land as a reward for the bravery they had proved in battle (1519). In 1521 the ruler of Severin was Nicalau Carlisle, a Romanian. Ioan Drag, who died a hero death during the battle of Mohacs, was the second nobleman in rank of the kingdom, coming right after the Palatine.

Nevertheless, the defence of Central Europe could be anything but improvised. The true fortresses, the Romanian territories, were still lost. In 1526, at Mohacs, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent annihilated not only the Hungarian army but the Hungarian State itself. The king and the pick of the Hungarian aristocracy lost their lives during that sanguinary decisive battle. The Hungarian kingdom ceased to exist for 160 years, being divided into three parts: the western part was taken by Ferdinand, brother of King Charles V; Hungary proper, with her capital in Buda, ended by becoming a Turkish possession (pashalik), and Transylvania was turned into a principality tributary to the Porte, the princes or which had to be confirmed by the sultan.

At the time, the three Romanian countries – Moldavia, Muntenia and Transylvania – had the same status: they were tributary to the Porte, but preserved the freedom to organise themselves as it pleased them to. With the time, that sort of political organisation could lead to the union of the three countries, and it was precisely this that Suleiman was afraid of (omnia haec regna in unnum cohaerent), for which reason he preserved strong garrisons by the frontiers. The Romanian bloc began at least to be seen as a political force. It was then that the European sovereigns of Latin origin began to remember this people. Nicholaus Olachus (Valachus): “These are the most famous races and among them there is that of your ancestors, the Romanians. We all know that your relatives are descendants of the Romans, the masters of the world, that is why they are called Romanians. And the people of your race stand out through their gallantry, and there are famous commanders among them such as John Corvinus of Hunedoara and King Matthias”.

Suchlike commanders continued to emerge in 16th century Romanian history. In Moldavia, Stefanita (1517-1527), grandson of Stephen the Great, defeated the Turks several times. Another prince, Peter Rares (1527-1538; 1541-1546), an illegitimate son of Stephen, was involved in an armed conflict against Suleiman. But the one who seriouslv set his mind to remove Turkish sovereignty was John the Brave (1572-1574), who crossed like a lightning M9ldavia’s history, but cut a conspicuous figure due to his military genius and his extraordinary courage. If one takes into account the reduced number of his troops, his victories look incredible. He defeated large armies several times, and was never defeated. A victim of betrayal, he had a tragic death, as would happen to Michael the Brave, one of the greatest Romanian princes, a few years later.

This latter prince ascended the throne of Muntenia in 1593, when Europe seemed to make ready to repel the Turks one more time. Upon the suggestion of the Pope and on the advice of the Jesuits, Emperor Rudolf  II set up an anti-Islamic league with the help of the principalities of Moldavia and Transylvania. Michael whole-heartedly joined the anti-Muslim policy, refused to pay any more taxes to Constantinople, and won his first victories over the Turks in 1594. One year later, he defeated a large army at Calugareni. That victory made him famous throughout the Christian world, and earned him the esteem of Emperor Rudolf II. A few years later, his country enjoyed complete freedom. In 1599, however, Sigismund Bathorv, the Prince of Transylvania, renounced the throne in favour of his brother Andrew, who maintained close contacts with Poland and contemplated, upon the latter’s sugges­tion, to conclude peace with the sultan. If he did, Michael ran the  risk of being encircled. Apprehending the danger, the brave prince asked the emperor for permission to cross the Carpathians, defeated Bathory at Selimbar in 1599 and proclaimed himself voivode of Transylvania.

As he feared that the throne of Moldavia might be acquired by a prince inclined to pay tribute to the Turks and to let himself influenced  by the Poles’ anticrusade policy, Michael and his troops entered the neigh­bouring country, occupied it without fight and banished the prince. In 1600 Michael the Brave  was the political ruler of the entire Romanian people, which, starting with the dawns of modern history, had been divided into three principalities. “Transylvania, the great passion of my life”, Michael the Brave wrote…

He had realised that, in order to fulfil its historic mission, the Romanian nation had to be united into one single State. Only such a State could stand as a definitive obstacle in the way of Muslim attacks. “Everything I have done has been for the sake of the Christian faith”, Michael wrote, “seeing how much suffering there is in store for our poor Christians. It is with great difficulty that I have begun to raise this poor country of mine, in order to turn it into a shield for the entire Christian world’. The idea of Romania’s historic mission as citadel of the Chris­tian Western world was always present in a latent form in the conscious­ness of all great Romanian princes. But it would take the world centuries to understand the historic need of the unity of the Romanian principalities, in the absence of which nothing lasting could be built up in either Central or Eastern Europe.

Betrayed by an Austrian general, Michael was murdered in 1601, and so the union of the Romanians was again postponed. But history has its revenge. Twenty years after the death of Stephen the Great, the Turks destroyed the Hungarian kingdom and Buda was turned into a pashalik. Eighty years after the death of Michael the Brave, the Turks besieged Vienna (1683). It was only then that the role played by the Romanians was understood: they had dealt terrible blows at the in­vader, blows that would delay for centuries its triumphal march towards the heart of Europe, they never spared their blood, and all this in order to save Christian culture and the Western civilisation .

Paving  the Way for the  Modern Times

The 17th century meant a brilliant period in the history of Romanian culture. One witnesses a profound artistic revival, the acme of which was the so-called “Brancoveanu” style. The throne was several times acquired by princes full of political and moral qualities: Matthew Bessarab (1635-1654), for instance, Basil the Wolf (1634-1653), Serban Cantacuzene (1678-1688), Constantine Brancoveanu (1688-1714). The latter became famous for his cultural and administrative reforms. In addition to this, Brancoveanu was a very religious man; he had refused to betray his faith and his homeland, and was beheaded in Constan­tinople, after being forced to witness the execution of his four sons.

Meanwhile, another political force was preparing itself to enter history: the Russians. In the dispute between the Turks and the Mus­covites, the Romanians began to side with the Christians. Moreover, while the Muslim colossus was on the wane, the counteroffensive of the Westernpowers was under way: Buda was conquered in 1686; after the Peace of Karlowitz, the Austrians conquered Hungary and Transyl­vania. During Peter the Great’s time the Russians attempted to take hold of the Danube mouths, but they were repelled. As a result of the fact that the Romanian prince ruling at the time, Demetrius Cantemir (1710-1711) one of the most illustrious scholars of the epoch – had sided with the Russians, the Turks did not trust the autochthonous I princes any more and decided to install foreign princes instead. Most of them were Greeks, although there were a few Romanians, too, who managed to rule. That was the sad period of the Phanariotes. Sad not so much because the princes were appointed directly by Constantinople (some of them proved to be excellent governors), but because their presence contributed to the decay of the old Romanian virtues. With the time, the army as a national force ceased to exist. The aristocracy changed its social function: instead of being the owner of the land, as it used to, it turned into a class of civil servants attached to the princely court.

During that period Romania lost, for the first time in her history, territories which she had always known how to defend throughout the centuries. In 1775 the Austrians bought from an already weakened Turkey a part of Moldavia, which they named Bucovina (after the word bucov, meaning “great forest” in Ukrainian), in order to give the impression that the region in question was an autonomous one. It was in vain that Voivode Grigore Ghica pro­tested against that theft, for he was killed by the Turks in 1777. In fact, the Turks were no longer capable of defending the territories formerly conquered by the sultans. In 1792 the Russians reached the Dniester, the eastern border of Moldavia. Seeing the obvious decline of the Ottoman Empire and trying to achieve Peter the Great’s dream, they took by force half of Moldavia from the Turks, which they abusively called Bessarabia (1812). That rape has never been either forgiven or forgotten by the Romanians.

During that sad 18th century, the Romanians of Transylvania rose in rebellion against the Magyar oligarchy, hoping that Emperor Joseph II, a liberal mind, would lend an ear to their suffering (Transylvania had been a province of the Austrian Empire for one century). A revolution of the Romanian peasants, led by three brave men – Horea, Closca and Crisan – took place over 1784-1785. The insurrection was squashed in blood, and its leaders tortured and killed. That trial, however, contributed to strengthening social resistence. The Romanian intellectuals in Transylvania sent the emperor Supplex Libellus Valachorum (1791), claiming equal treatment, he emperor found the petition justified and the claims modest; this notwithstanding, the Magyar noblemen refused to yield any of their privileges. Despite this, the Romanians in Transylvania continued to fight. Some of them sent their sons to Rome to learn Romanian history there, and began to publish books in Latin and in the european living languages, asserting their rights.


Revolutions and Wars for Independence and Unity

The lowest point in Romanian history was the moment the Mol­davian territories were torn away, a moment that marked the beginning of revival and regeneration. In 1821, Tudor Vladimirescu gave the signal for a rebellion against the abuses of the Phanariote princes. Betrayed by a Greek military chief, he was murdered, but his sacrifice was not useless. The sultans renounced their privilege to appoint Greek princes, restoring Moldavia and Muntenia their old right to self-governing through the election of Romanian rulers.

One generation later, the first step would be made towards Romanian unification into one single State. Muntenia and Moldavia elected one and the same prince, Alexander Cuza (January 24, 1859), for a period of seven years, but the two countries finished by being definitively united. The neighbouring countries were hostile to the union, but this time the circumstances favoured the Romanians. During his reign, Prince Cuza carried on some important social reforms, which made him very popular among the peasants. After the seven years period had passed, the decision was taken to elect a prince from a foreign dynasty, in order to discourage in a radical way the ambitions of some Romanian princely families, whose quarelling over the throne had caused a lot of trouble to the country. The throne was offered to the Count of Flanders, the Belgian king’s brother, who turned down the proposal. The next proposal was made to Prince Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, at the time aged 27, who was accepted by the Romanian people through a plebiscite. Prince Carol was enthusiasti­cally met in Bucharest on May 10, 1866. The Romanians foresaw that during his reign Romania would be restored her freedom and honour.

True, the new prince availed himself of all external political circumstances to defend the Romanians’ rights. He began by strengthening the national army, by organising the political status of the country, by reviving its social, economic and financial institutions. In 1877, upon the outbreak of a new Russo-Turkish war, King Carol proclaimed the country’s absolute independence and, following a defeat suffered by the Russians, he ordered his army to cross the Danube. “The Turks have gathered large masses of troops at Plevna and are overwhelming us”, Great Duke Nicholas, the commander of the Russian army, wired Prince Carol on July 31,1877, asking for the urgent intervention of the Romanians. Prince Carol entered action only after he had secured the supreme command of the Romanian-Russian troops at Plevna. In December that year Plevna fell, and two months later the Turks sued for peace. The conflict between the Turks and the Romanians that had lasted for over five centuries ended with the victory of the latter. After the Balkan countries had won their independence in the wake of the 1877 war, Romania ceased to fight her former enemy…

The reign of Carol I was the longest in Romania’s history, as it lasted 49 years, till October 10, 1914. On May 10, 1881 Romania was proclaimed a kingdom. King Carol and Queen Elisabeth (better known as Carmen Sylva, her pen name) had no male offspring. Prince Fer­dinand, one of Carol’s nephews, was elected heir to the throne in 1889. During Carol’s long and fruitful reign, Romania had the opportunity, for the first time miner history, to concentrate all energies on a creative work. After barely fifty years, Romania had become a modern country, striving to make up for the time lost in endless battles.

It was during the reign of Ferdinand the Loyal (1914-1927) that the union of all Romanian provinces into one State was achieved. In 1848 the Romanians of Transylvania, led by tribune Avram lancu, had triggered off the last armed revolution against the Magyar oligarchy, without any success though. When World War I (1914-1918) broke put, Romania entered the conflagraton in order to liberate the Romanians of Transylvania. Her armies crossed the Carpathians, being met with flowers everywhere. The Romanian frontiers, however, formed the widest European front with the exception of the Russian one (three times wider than the Franco-German front). Attacked by large Ger­man-Bulgarian troops at Turtucaia, the Romanian troops were com­pelled to withdraw on to new fronts. A great part of the country was occupied. Despite this, in 1917 the Romanians passed on to the counter-offensive and won the brilliant victories of Marasti and Marasesti (July 24 and August 19, 1917, respectively). It was then that the desertion of the Russian troops, contaminated by the revolu­tion, occurred. In October the revolution degenerated into a communist revolution, and a significant part of the Romanian military forces were involved in the disarming of the Bolshevik regiments that were devas­tating the country’. Through the Peace of Brest-Litovsk the German troops occupied Ukraine as far as Odessa. Attacked from everywhere and at the same time forced to fight the mutined Russian regiments, Romania sued for an armistice.

The trouble of having been forced to interrupt fighting was com­pensated for by some good news: Bessarabia, that part of Moldavia that had been taken away by the Russians in 1812, proclaimed herself independent under the name of the Republic of Moldavia on January 27, 1918, and on April 10, 1918 the National Assembly of the young republic voted its union to Romania. The decision was taken by virtue of the principle put forward by the Russian revolutionaries according to which all the peoples of the former Tsarist Empire had the right to freely decide upon their own destiny. When, faced with the defeat, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy began to disintegrate a few months later, the Romanians in Bucovina and Transylvania, too, decided the “uncon­ditional and definitive union with the Romanian Kingdom” (on Novem­ber 28 and December 1, respectively). In this way, after numberless sufferings and disillusions, the Romanian people accomplished its his­toric destiny that had been forseen by Stephen the Great and achieved for a short while by Michael the Brave.

In 1919, the communist revolution broke out in Hungary as well by the setting up of the bloody  dictatorship of Bela Kun. Attacked by his troops, the Romanian army crossed the Tisza on July 24, 1919 and entered Budapest, defeating the communists. Bela Kun ran away and Hungary was saved from his bloody dictatorship. It was the second time that the Romanians suppressed a communist revolution in Central Europe; the first one had been the revolution of the Russian troops in the territory of Romania; the second one was the triumphant Bolshevik revolution in Hungary, which endangered Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania alike.

King Ferdinand I the Loyal lived to see the fulfilment of the Romanians century-old dream: the union of all Romanians into one single State. And he died before that unity would be changed by historical circumstances. During the reign of his son, King Carol II (1930-1940), Romania received the Soviets’ ultimatum (June 27,1940) and forced by Italy and Germany to accept the Vienna Dictate, following which she lost Bessarabia, a part or Bucovina and half of Transylvania. Four million Romanians where thereby forced to live outside the frontiers of their homeland.

During the first year of King Michael I’s reign, who ascended the throne under the most difficult circumstances in the entire modern history of his country (September 8,1940), when ruler of the State was Marshal Antonescu, the territories annexed by the Soviets were taken back. It is those territories that account for the entering of the Romanian army in the war against the USSR. The conquest of half of Moldavia has not only a strictly national significance. The Romanians are, indeed, the defenders of the Danube mouths and the guarrantors of the international freedom and European function of that river, called with good reason the “eight sea of Europe”. Nowadays, the Romanians defend the liberty of this big river against Slav imperialism much like, for centuries on end, they defended the freedom of the Black Sea and of the Danube mouths against Ottoman imperialism. The war against the Soviets has not only a spiritual significance, that of defending Christian and European assets against Euro-Asiatic mysticalness; it also implies an European geopolitical element: international freedom for the Danubian basin.


The Romanians

A concise history


Contents –

  1. ORIGINS AND FORMATION

-          Under the sign of  Zamolxis

-          A great Dacian Kingdom

-          Trajan and the Romanisation of Dacia

-          Formation of the Romanian People

-          Characteristic feature of the Romanian Language and Civilization

-          The dawns of the Romanian History


  1. LANDMARKS OF THE ROMANIAN HISTORY

-          Europe in front of  Islam

-          Mircea the Old – Great Voivode of Wallachia

-          The crusade spirit: Iancu de Hunedoara and Stephen the Great

-          Michael the Brave and the first unification of the Romanian Principalities

-          Paving the way for the Modern Times

-          Revolutions and wars for independence and unity


  1. THE ROMANIANS SPIRITUAL LIFE

-          Christianity

-          The two myths of the Romanian spirituality

-          Salient features of the Romanian culture

-          Prominent features of the Romanian Culture


























  1. ORIGINS AND FORMATION


Under the sign of  Zamolxis

The Romanians are the descendants of two great peoples of the antiquity: the Geto-Dacians and the Romans. The Getae, or Dacians as the romans used to call them, belong to the large Thracian family, deeply rooted in the ancient history and old religions of Hellas. They emerged in the Carpathian- Danube regions at the end of the Neolithic age, some two thousand years before Christ.


Soon Dacia became famous for its extraordinary rich soil and subsoil. Her fertile plains allowed for a fast development of agriculture; the sub-Carpathian hills were very propitious for animal breeding; the lakes along the Danube and the lagoons of the Danube Delta teemed with fish; salt and gold were so easy to find and in such great quantities that after the conquest of Dacia, Emperor Trajan would abolish taxes throughout the empire for  three years because the production of the gold mines in Transylvania was more than enough to cover the “budget deficits” of the empire.Thanks to her riches, Dacia was among the most densely populated regions of the ancient world. Shortly before the Roman conquest, the future “Dacia Felix” had become the California of the ancient world.


In addition to the material riches the Dacians possessed, they were a healthy, hard-working, heroic and religious people. All classic authors attest to the true and deep nature of their religious life. Herodotus says that the Getae were the “bravest and most righteous among the Thracians”, undoubtedly because of their belief in the immortality of the soul. “The Getae were the most valiant men of the antiquity not only because of their stamina, but also because Zamolxis, whom they worshiped, had taught them to be so. They thought death was just and abode change; for that reason, they were ready to die rather than become slaves.


Contempt for death and suffering along with the belief in immortality are the characteristic elements of the Geto-Dacian religion. The ancient world was also impressed with the idea of spiritual preeminence that Plato himself gave it as an example by showing what Zamolxis recommended to his disciples:” we must see the body and the soul together, the same as we should not look a the eyes without paying attention to the head, or to the head without paying attention the body”.


Scholars have not agreed as to whether Zamolxis was a celestial or terrestrial deity. One thing is sure though: the high spirituality of the cult. Zamolxis had neither temples nor representations. He was worshipped on hills and on the top of the mountains, the supreme places for the cult being on the highest peaks of the Carpathians.

Strabo is amazed of the pure, frugal and ascetic life of the Geto-Dacians under the influence of Zamolxis’s doctrine.


Their tribes, led by chiefs who at times succeeded in leading if not the entire people at least the greatest part of it, lived in villages and small settlements.

Although the Dacian civilization was essentially agrarian, part of the population was made of craftsmen making pottery, processing wood or extracting and processing metals.

The Geto Dacians were medium high blond men, who grew a beard and had long hair. The noblemen used to wear a small cap, while those belonging to the lower classes were bare-headed. Their physical aspect as well as the characteristics of their attire- loose fitting knee lomg shirt and a girdle along the waist, a mantle fixed with a fibula on the shoulder and hanging loose on the back – have been conveyed to us through the reliefs of the famous Trajan’s Column in the Roman Forum. Even today one may find these characteristics with the Romanian peasants, particularly those living in the Carpathian regions of Transylvania.


For almost two thousand years the Dacians had their roots deeply cast in the soil of their homeland, which they never deserted: one may say they were the product of this land, which nourished them and for whose defence of which they were always ready to lay down their lives. There were always other people that coveted the riches of Dacia. The Cimmerians, several times at the beginning of the first millennium BC; some time later in the 7th century BC, the Scythians of Iranian kin, who brought along the beneficial influence of iron working from the Near East; around 1000 BC tribes belonging to the Hallstadt-Ilirian and Italic- Villanovan civilizations came from the west, paving the way for the Western Roman world that was to penetrate in those places a few centuries later. Finally, another extremely important Western influence was to be exerted by the Celts and their civilization in the 4th century BC.


However all those peoples were ultimately assimilated by the Dacians. From all those contacts – warlike a the beginning, but peaceful and fruitful later- the Dacian culture came out enriched.

Five centuries before Christ, Dacia had important commercial relations with Greece; several Greek colonies have been already established on the western Black Sea shore and the Danube mouths. Everything had contributed to turning Dacia into a bridge linking several worlds: not only it was a frontier between Europe and Asia, but it was there that the great cultural trends of the West and the East overlapped and intercrossed. It was there, in Dacia, that history initiated the earliest fusions between East and West: the Cimmerian from the Caspian Sea with Villanovan’s from Italy, the Scythians of Iranian kin with the Celts, etc. Those trends and influences of East and West clashed and intercrossed over the Geto-Dacians, who remained in the territory they had inhabited for centuries, assimilating one tribe after another.


This situation was merely in anticipation of the tragic history of thr Romanians. Like their Geto-Dacian forefathers, the Romanians will have to face with a series of more violent invasions then the ones occurred during their protohistory, as well as with contradictory and at times even hostile influences. In spite of all this, the Romanians remained firmly rooted in their land, which they did not desert even under the mos tragical circumstances, and withstood countless invasions and influences without losing its ethnic substance, style, vigour, its genuine physical and moral personality.


A Great Dacian Kingdom

We know some episodes of the Geto-Dacians’ ancient history. In 514 BC Darius, King of Persia, on his way to the Scythians’land, penetrated into Dobroudia ahead of a powerful army. Impressed with the considerable force of nis troops, all Thracian tribes he came across. submitted to him; the Dacians alone opposed him through bitter fighting4.

At one time Alexander the Great, too, came close to Dacia. In 335 BC he crossed the Danube and conquered a Getic town, but he had to leave after barely 24 hours as a result of the fact that a number of Greek towns he had conquered shortly before had mutinied. And he never returned, seduced as he was by his dream to dominate over Asia.



Nevertheless, Greek historians recorded the names and deeds of some of the Dacian kings, even if very few of them. To some extent this is quite puzzling, as Greek historiography hardly retained the names of those who had any connection with the Greeks or who directly threatened the Hellenic world. Fortunately, the Greeks retained in their memory things by far more valuable: they did not ignore either Zalmoxis, or the Dacians’ virtues, or their spiritual horizon so pure and so comprehensive. As a matter of fact, there are more important – one may say even decisive – things than the documents regarding some individual or another, the details of a battle or the downf all of a dynasty: the proofs attesting to the spiritual and cultural life of an entire people, the documents that are discovered and interpreted by prehistory, ar­chaeology and ethnology. A symbol, a myth, a certain lifestyle reconstituted with the help of domesticpotteryand tools are by far more significant, because with the help of such impersonal documents an entire culture can be brought to hie and the sense of a people’s spiritual-ness can be unravelled.



The first Geto-Dacian king to have his name recorded by Greek historiography was Dromichaites. He waged several battles against the Macedonians; in 292 BC he succeeded in taking prisoner the Macedonian King Lysimachos, along with an entire army. After Dromichaites, and as a result of the Celtic invasion, the Dacian kingdom entered a period of internal disensions. It was only two centuries later, during Burebista’s time (1st century BC), that Dacia would acquire the force and prestige she had never had before. Burebista managed to unify all small Geto-Dacian principalities, and as a result his kingdom stretched from the Balkans and Bohemia to the Tisza and the Bug rivers. The Greek towns on the Black Sea coast recognized him as their sovereign; moreover, Burebista con­sidered himself sufficiently strong to interfere in the intestine strug­gles of Rome. His army was considerably large, at times standing at 200,000 men.



The Romans began to get worried. Caesar contemplated to or­ganise an expedition against Burebista, but he died before having the chance to embark upon it. Luckily for Rome, Burebista died shortly after Caesar, and his kingdom was divided between his successors. Meanwhile, the conflict between Rome and Dacia had become unavoidable. Starting with the 1st century BC, the Romans could be found on the right bank of the Danube, though their commerce and culture had penetrated into Dacia long before that date. The glory of Rome fascinated the Geto-Dacians, a people of farmers who led a simple hard life. Sometimes, the attraction was so strong that the Dacians would cross the Danube, overrunning the new Roman province of Moesia, as it happened in AD 69 and 85.



Emperor Dpmitian initiated then a series of operations against Dacia that ended in utter failure. Oppius Sabinus, Governor of Moesia, was taken prisoner, and his army was decimated. A second expedition, this time led by Cornelius Fuscus, met with the same fate. It was only some time later that another Roman general, Tettius Julianus, suc­ceeded in defeating the Dacians at Tapae in AD 89. The peace con­cluded on the occasion was not unfavourable to the Dacians: Domitian pledged to supply them with Roman workers and to pay them a certain amount of money.



At the time, Dacia was being ruled by Decebalus, the third and last one of the great Dacian kings. He had a well-organised army as well as fortifications made of earth and stone around his capital Sar-mizegethusa, located in the south-western part of Transylvania, but also in other strategic places. Decebalus introduced Roman discipline and fighting methods in his army. Following the agreement concluded with Domitian, he was sent Roman engineers and craftsmen, war machines, etc. Decebalus was one of those few barbarians who had understood that there was but one way to withstand and even defeat Roman power: to assimilate its civilisation. During his reign, the Romanisation of Dacia was stimulated. There were many Dacians who spoke Latin, a language quite well known north of the Danube even in Augustus’ time. At one time, there was a rumour in Rome about a possible marriage of Julia, Augustus’ daughter, to young Dacian King Cotiso.



Decebalus’ victories and his growing power were a matter of discontent to the Romans. The treaty concluded by Domitian with the Dacians’ king was not only humiliating for Roman dignity, but it was also dangerous for the security of the empire. On the other hand, Decebalus’ glory endangered Roman prestige in those limitrophe provinces. A powerful Dacian kingdom was a temptation not only For Moesia, the inhabitants of which might have rebelled against the Roman rule, but also for the other provinces in Central Europe, Pannonia, for instance. That is why a new Daco-Roman war seemed unavoidable. Moreover, one should not forget the appeal Dacia’s riches had for the… empty chests of the empire. Finally, the strategic spirit of the caesars resuscitated with Trajan, who decided to con­quer Dacia.



“The province of Dacia was not supposed to be a mere bridgehead”, Constantin Daicoviciu argues with good reason, “but a power­ful well-organised base [...] meant to ensure the safety of the Roman world and, of course, to help it expand north of the middle and lower course of the Danube, into Marcomannia and Sarmatia, provinces which Emperor Marcus Aurelius contemplated to annex to the empire in continuation to the century-old Caesarean policy. Indeed, not only was the annexation of Dacia to the empire a true blessing for its Balkan parts [...], but it also had abeneficial influence upon thebarbarianpopulations living west, north and east of Dacia, which were thus prepared to cope with a new civilised life and the advanced forms of Roman culture”5.

Trajan and the Romanisation of Dacia

The man destined to conquer and Romanise Dacia was an Iberian emperor. A colonus born in the Spanish town of Italica, he proved to be a great general and an intelligent emperor. The succeeding generations bestowed on him the title of optimus princeps. He dedicated himself with the same energy to the task of regenerating the empire through domestic reforms and of strengthening it through new conquests. It was only after Trajan had secured peace in the regions of the upper course of the Danube, that is in Pannonia, that he attacked Dacia. In AD 101 he crossed the river into Dacia with huge forces, the strength of which stood at thirteen legions. The resistance put up by the Dacians and their heroic King Decebalus was extremely vigorous. The Romans won a victory at Tapae, but they sustained huge casualties. The campaign would be continued the following year, AD 102. Defeated again, this time at Sarmizegethusa, Decebalus sued for peace.The terms Trajan imposed on him were very hard. The proud Dacian king was to be a client prince, and a Roman garrison was to be quartered in his capital.



The Dacians, however, could not accept submission, therefore shortly after the defeat Decebalus began to prepare for the revenge by haying fortifications built up and by concluding alliances with the neighbouring peoples. There is no doubt that the first to attack was Trajan, who crossed the Danube on a bridge built after the first Dacian war. The campaign began in AD 105, in June. Two large Roman armies penetrated into Transylvania across the Carpathians and made for Sarmizegethusa. The fighting around the capital was sanguinary.

When the first Roman soldiers entered the stronghold, the inhabi­tants set their homes afire, while their leaders poisoned themselves to avoid falling alive into the hands of the victors. Decebalus, followed by a retinue of noblemen, took refuge in the mountains, without however ceasing to fight; finally, he was forced into killing himself with his own dagger only to avoid being taken prisoner. Trajan sent Decebalus’ head to Rome.

The second Daco-Roman war lasted two years, since the year 105 till 106; this time, however, the Romans’ victory was complete and Dacia was turned into a Roman province. The spoils of war taken by Trajan were considerable: Dacia s gold saved the finances of the em­pire. Colonists from throughout the empire, extoto orbe, rushed towards that “California of the ancient world”. Realising that it was only by rapid deep-going Romanisation that Dacia could be protected from the barbarians, Trajan encouraged that prodigious colonisation. Flourish­ing towns and roads would be built, giving the population a feeling of perfect security. The garrison in Dacia was very big and it boasted the best contingents of provincial troops next to those in Brittany. “The Roman civilisation is equally spread by the host of merchants, craftsmen, businessmen, and civil servants of all kind, and especially by the colonists who come for their overwhelming part from provinces Romanised a long time before, Dalmatia in particular”*. Likewise, a great number of colonists come from Italy herself.



Dacia’s turning into a Rqmanprovince had enormous consequences for that territory, as once with Trajan’s legions the Latin West, too, penetrated into those regions. Until men Dacia had inclined towards the Hellenic East; from now onwards, she began to turn to the West. The civilising influx had changed. The Dacian population merged with the Roman colonists and, as vulgar Latin was a universal instrument and on top of it the language of the conqueror, Dacia, too, adopted that idiom. Here, as elsewhere in the empire, assimilation was fast. It nad taken a century to Romanise Spain and Gaul, but here, unlike in other regions, the Romanisa­tion did not mean a radical change of the autochthonous ethnic substance. The Dacian learned to speak Latin, but he preserved his customs, his way of life and ancestral virtues. The new towns worshipped the gods of the empire, but in villages and in the mountains the cult of Zalmoxis perpet­uated, even if, later on, under a different name. That is why when the first Christian missionaries arrived to bring the new faith to the Daco-Romans, the latter embraced Christianity at once and before others did so: Zalmoxis had paved the way for the new faith for centuries…



Nevertheless, while the Romanisation and civilisation were under way, an opposite process began to take shape at the northern border of Dacia: the great barbarian invasions that would eventually lead to the downfall of the magnificent imperial edifice. The barbarian world of the Goths was in full movement. They carried on several inroads into Dacia, but were defeated by Emperor Decius. Their pressure, however, proved to be increasingly stronger. The Gotns, Carpiaas and free Dacians, who lived north of Dacia, attacked the province without respite. Under Aurelian the situation got out ^1 control and the great emperor decided to leave Dacia, which he did in two stages (AD 271-272). That meant a total renunciation of the Caesarean expan­sionist policy and a return to the strategic and political principle of Augustus: maintenance of the empire within its naturally fortified borders. While abandoning Dacia, Aurelian was saving the empire, because the Danube was a natural frontier very easy to defend, and the Romans continued to have real authority over a certain part of the territory on the left bank of the river. On the other hand, nobody really believed that the province was being abandoned for good, but hoped to come back one day. The future, however, would dash that hope …



Well, who were those who crossed the Danube back into Moesia when the order to evacuate the province came? Undoubtedly, the legions, the civil servants, the rich people, some of the merchants … “One cannot believe that there was a general evacuation”, argues Leon Homo, the outstanding historian, in his work on Aurelian’s reign. “A great number of the earlier inhabitants must have stayed, as they lived in good understanding with the Goths and therefore had no interest in leaving the province. As a matter of fact, a general evacuation would have probably been impossible without a new war, because the Goths would not have agreed to let the whole civilian population leave”7. It was precisely the latter who tilled the land, because the invading Goths, who were nomads and had never occupied themselves with agriculture, used to live on the work of those they conquered. And, after all, why would they leave ?



South of the Danube life was very hard; in Dacia, one could come to terms with the invader, to whom a tribute in seeds or cattle was paid; on the other hand, in Moesia there was the Roman tax-collector, and, on top of it, life was unstable because it was there that the most bitter fighting against the barbarian invaders took place even before Aurelian’s time. Transylvania and Oltenia were more densely populated regions. No inscription speaking of refugees from Dacia has been found south of the Danube and it is unlikely that whole masses of people had been evacuated without leaving any trace of their presence in those regions. Let us not forget that Dacia was a very densely populated region. Where were one  million refugees supposed to find shelter? In what towns and villages? No, the Daco-Roman peasants and shepherds remained in tneir lands much like they had done when the invasion of the Cimmerians and the Celts occurred, and like they were to stay in front of the Tartars and Turks centuries afterwards. To defend themselves, they had a weapon that none of the invaders could have had: the knowledge of their own country. Dacios inhaerent montibus (”The Dacians stick to the mountains”), an ancient writer said; they found an excellent shelter in the impenetrable forests covering the mountains not only in front of the barbarian threat emerged at the dawn of the Christian era, but all throughout their history.

The forest is a brother to the Romanian”, a most popular saying with the descendants of the Daco-Romans says.



Formation of the Romanian People

The mountains and the forests had an enormous contribution to guaranteeing Dacq-Roman continuity in Dacia. In those times, you could cross the entire country, from the Carpathians to the Black Sea, without ever having to leave the forest. One might write a lot of volumes about the role played by the forest in the life of the Romanian people. References to the forest are common place in the Romanian folklore, and the Romanians are the only people in this part of Europe to use the green leave as a musical instrument.

The Goths were the masters of Dacia for as long as a century, that is till the year 375. Meanwhile, the Romanisation of the Daco-Romans went on, because the links between the two banks of the Danube were never severed. The masters of the land, the barbarian Goths, were few in numbers; while they managed to paralyse the life of big towns, they could do nothing against the millenary rural civilisation. In villages, the Daco-Roman life went on, the Goths themselves being interested in :hat it did so, because the richness of the country was their only means of subsistence. On the other hand, the peaceful coexistence of the invading Germanic peoples with the autochthonous population has been attested to by archaeological discoveries (joint necropolises, etc.).



During the same interval, the christianisation of the Daco-Romans occurred. Wulfila, a missionary who came from south of the Danube, began to preach the Gospel in Dacia, using both Gothic and Latin. He preached in the Gothic language for the “masters”; but then for whom did he preach in Latin if not for the common people, the only ones able to understand that idiom? This is another proof of Roman continuity north of the Danube. In the 4th century the christianisation of the Daco-Romans was under way. A Christian inscription in Latin dating back to the 4th century has been recently found in Transylvania. Nothing, however, prevents us from believingthat adepts of Chris­tianity had existed in Dacia a long time before. The Daco-Romans did not know mass baptising, by order of their rulers, as it happened with most of the neighbouring peoples. The christianisation of the Daco-Romans took the form ol a spiritual process: they were converted to Christianity by missionaries and not by threats; and finally,’ they were the first Christians in this part of Europe. Other neighbouring peoples would be baptised only a few centuries later.



The earliness of Daco-Roman Christianity is attested to by the
Latin character of the Romanian Christian vocabulary. In Romanian
one says biserica (church) from the Latin word basilica, Dumnezeu
(God) from Dominus Deus, cuminecatura (communion) from
cumunicationem, a boteza (to baptise) from baptizare, crestin (Chris­
tian) from christianus, cruce (cross) from crux, pacat (sin) from pecatum,
rugaciune (prayer) from rogationem, inger (angel) from angelus, a
raposa (to pass away) from repausare – the idea of deceasing or of dying
including that of repose, rest -, Paste (Easter) from Paschae, etc. The
Latin origin of Romanian Christianity is also confirmed by the name of
some important holidays or feasts. Palm Sunday is called in Romanian
Floriile, from the Latin term Florilia, the pagan feast of spring. Rusaliile
(Whitsun) derives its name from the old Latin feast of spring called
Rosalia. The same can be witnessed with the Romanian word sarbatoare
(feast), whose origin is pagan Latin: servatoria.

It was Christian belief that helped the peoples north of the Danube survive the new waves of invaders, because one century after Dacia had been conquered by the Goths the most terrible invasion ever known to Europe until then took place: the Huns’ invasion (AD 375). Dacia was again shattered by those Asian barbarians. The last remnants of urban civilisation were destroyed and part of the population was slaughtered. The rest took shelter in the mountains and forests and waited for the tempest to pass. As a matter of fact, after the death of Atilla in AD 453, the Huns empire pulverised, and Dacia was occupied by a new barbarian tribe of Germanic origin: the Gepids. Life was back again: the number of villages grew, agriculture was flourishing and vineyards began to bear fruit again.



The Gepids were a peaceful people (quieta gens) and, like their predecessors, concerned with having the natives thriving, as it was the latter who were paying. However, the domination of the Gepids was short-lived: in AD 566 their place was taken by the Longobards and the Avars. Right:, after their victory, the Longobards left for Italy, leaving the Avars as the absolute masters of Dacia. But they, too, did not have enough time to enjoy the conquest, because another barbarian tribe took their place: the Slavs.



The barbarian waves succeeded on another for over three cen­turies. Indeed, the Slavs were not the last to come. After their arrival, other tribes, too, prepared to enter European history. But they could not do anything against the “people of the land”, the true masters of Dacia. And they could not do anything because they were foreigners, intruders, because they did not belong to those places, because they did not feel drawn to the landscape that was to mould, starting with the third millenium before Christ, the souls of the autochthonous population. The barbarians were bearers of a different “vision of life” (Weltanschauung), they had different customs and a different way of life. They were perhaps still nostalgic about Asia, Eurasia or the north of Europe… Someway or another, the landscape of Dacia, the sky, the forests, the mountains, the people, everything looked strange to them. And they were to yield in front of that strange environment as were to yield the Slavs, too, and the other barbarians who came at a later date. When not exterminated by other barbar­ians or following struggles with groups of rebels, they just withered away in the mass of tne autochthonous population. On the other hand, they were never too numerous: a few tens of thousands, perhaps even fewer, among hundreds of thousands of native Daco-Romans.



Nevertheless, the barbarian invasions were to have a consider­able influence upon Dacia’s destiny in that they cut the links with the Latin West. A few centuries before, Rome had felt attracted to that province imbued whith Greek cultural influences; subse­quently, isolated from Rome, Dacia turned for support to another part of the empire, the Byzantium, or the Rome of the East. The Daco-Romans north of the Danube maintained contact with Latinity also through the Eastern Roman world in the Balkan Peninsula.

A secret rhythm occurred in the history of the Dacians and of their descendants, the Romanians, already in the remotest times: two poles, the Latin West and the Hellenised East, would alternate in influencing the formation and fate of this people. In the case of the Villanqvans of the prehistorical epoch, it was Italy that was present in Dacia; in the case of the Greeks of the 7th century BC, it was the Near East that became a centre of cultural irradiation; starting with Trajan, Dacia was integrated into the Roman Empire and the Latin culture for ever. The barbarians changed again her orientation, with Byzan­tium becoming a centre of influence throughout the Middle Ages. Finally, in early 18th century the Latin West would become again an attraction point and a fertile source of influence in the spiritual and political life of the Romanian people.



Let us not wander from the subject, but get back to the epoch of the barbarian invasions: once their direct links with Rome had been broken, the Daco-Romans turned to Byzantium. Well, at the time Byzan­tium still meant the Roman world, being part of the Roman Empire. Vestiges of the persistence of the Roman world can be seen throughout the territory of Dacia: a lot of Roman and Byzantine objects have been dug out all over the province. Great Emperor Justinian (527-565) even set up an archbishopric (Justiniana Prima), the jurisdiction of which also covered Dacia. Beginning with the 2nd century the specific ceramics is but a continuation of the Daco-Roman pottery of the Roman period, exerting its influence even upon the barbarian craftsmen.



Obviously, starting with the great crisis facing the Roman Empire in the 3rd century, the tendency towards a sort of provincial “individuality” become obvious everywhere. Rome ceased to be the centre of gravity, which instead was shifted to the provinces.

The immediate outcome of that transfer could be seen in the artistic creation: art became more individualised, more local, using again the pre-Roman autochthonous stylistic traditions. In some respects, one witnesses a return to prehistory or, if you wish, to the legacy bequeathed” by the forefathers who had” lived prior to the Roman conquest. That phenomenon occurred in England, Gaul, Dacia. The great crisis of the 3rd century spurred the revival of a rural aristocracy in all the provinces 01 the empirr, a revival that coincided with the decay of towns and the flourishing of rural life. One can witness this provincial “individuality , recently dealt with by the Romanian historian Gheorghe Bratianu in a comprehensive essay5, in Dacia as well. With the ceramics, there is a gradual return to the local tradition. In Dacia more than anywhere else, the beginning of the Middle Ages meant a new prehistorical epoch. This accounts perhaps for the miraculous endurance of the Daco-Romans, because the revival of “individuality” in Dacia awakened the spirit of the old Geto-Dacian culture, the vitality of the forerunners, the mystical virility of Zalmoxis. The autochthonous spirit is always extremely enduring: centuries of foreign domination, hundreds of terrible wars did not succeed in annihilating it. The history of the Romanians in Transylvania stands proof in this respect. When the Slavs arrived, the Eastern Roman world stretched, without any dilution in terms of continuity, from the north of Dacia as far as the Adriatic and Black Seas. Moreover, beginning with the 4th century all those regions were called Romania. But there came the Slay avalanche, which was to break that great ethnic and linguistic entity. Unlike the other barbarian invaders, the Slavs were so numerous that they could afford to remain in the conquered territory. After bitter fighting, they became the masters of the land. Their supremacy lasted for centuries, but meanwhile their assimilation by a part of the autochthonous population went on. The masters, in their turn, were brought into submission – through culture, language, mar­riages – and when the first Romanian principalities emerged during the llm century, the miracle had already taken place: the Slavs had been assimilated, and the people living in the territory of Dacia was the Romanian people, who had preserved all the characteristic features of their forefathers, the Dacians, and were speaking a Latin language: the Romanian.



Characteristic Features of the Romanian Language and Civilisation

The 4th century Romania had been irrevocably broken. The Romanised provinces south and west of the Danube were turned into Slav regions. The Serbians settled in ancient Illyricum, while the Bulgars, a Slav people that had undergone Asian influences, in Moesia. At that time the Romanians were already an island of Latinity among Slavs. Their only neighbours who were not Slavs were the Hungarians, who arrived from Asia and settled in the Tisza Plain in late 9th century.

There has been much talk, and with good reason, about the “historic miracle” represented by this Latin people which has managed to survive in the eastern extremity of Europe and to preserve untouched the characteristic features of its ancestors. In­deed, anthropological studies have placed the Romanians among the Latin peoples, clearly differentiated from the Balkan peoples. The area where this people was formed seems to be on either side of the Carpathians. “The populations of Romania are classified in terms of the sanguine type and in relation to a Romanian nucleus rich in European elements, mainly located in the mountainous centre of Transylvania”9, says Professor George Popoviciu.



The above assertion is confirmed by linguistic facts, because Professor Gamillscheg places the cradle of the Romanian language and its “germinative cell” (Keimzelle) in the eastern part of Transylvania10. Indeed, it is there that not only the Roman but also the Dacian names of settlements and rivers have been preserved to the day (the name of the locality of Abrud = Abruttum; the Cris rivers = Crisia; the town of Turda is the old Dacian Turidava, etc.}.

Ethnic continuity is even more obvious witn the folk costumes. Today, the Romanian peasants dress exactly as the Dacians on Trajan’s column. In no other part of Europe has the rural population preserved the attire of 2,000 years ago. There are some types of houses that have come down to us from prehistory, while some villages in Transylvania still preserve the structure they use to have during the pre-Roman epoch.



Undoubtedly, another miracle is the Romanian language itself, the only Romance language to have preserved the enclitic article: instead of el lobo, del lobo, al lobo (the wolf, of the wolf, to the wolf) one says in Romanian lup, lupul etc. just like in Latin lu- lupus, lupum, lupi. Likewise, the Romanian language is the only Romance language that has no dialects. This amazing linguistic unity can be accounted for by the fact that in winter time the shepherds used to move their flocks from the Carpathian Mountains far down to the estuary of the Danube and the Black Sea coast in search of pastures. It is obvious that due to numerous inyasions, part of the inhabitants, particularly those living in the mountains, no longer occupied themselves with agriculture (agriculture can be practised in the Carpathian depressions up to 1,000 m altitude) but turned into a people of shepherds.



The morphology and syntax of the Romanian language are Latin, and the entire basic word stock is of Latin origin: family (om = homo; barbat = barbatus; muiere = mulier; parinte = parentem;, fiu = filius; fiica = filia;sora = soror; frate = frater; cumnat = cognatus; socru = socer; ginere = generem; nepot = nepos; nepotem, etc.); essential features (bun = bonus; frumos = formosus; tanar = tener; batran = veteranus, etc.); warfare (anma = arma; arc = arcus; sageata — sagitta; scut = scutum; coif = cufea; lupta = lucta; bataie — battalia; maciuca = matteuca; secure = securis, etc.); household and life in the countryside (casa = casa; sat = fossatum; ogor = ager; camp = campus; a ara = arrare;a.sapa = sappare; a semana = seminare; a culege = colliegere; grau = granua; ei = milium; orz = hordem;.spic = spicum; graunte = granutia; moara = mola; faina = farina; paine = panis, etc.); animals (cane = canis;cal = caballus; armasar — armesarius; iapa = equa; porc = porcus; scroafa = escrofa; purcel — porcellus; gaina = gallina; porumbel = polumbus; lup, peste, urs, vultur, etc.); the shepherd’s life (pastor = pastor; pacurar = pecurarius;oaie = ovis; berbec = verbex; miel = agnellus; turma = turma; bou = bos; vaca = vacca; cornut = cornutus; taur = taurus; junc = juvencus; vitel = vittelus; a paste — pascere; fan = fenum; jug= jugum; capra = capra, etc.); cottage industry (lana = lana; a toarce = torquere; fir = fillum, etc.); parts of the body (ochi, nas, mana, ureche = auriculum, frunte, tampla, umar, palma, etc.); not only are the military, juridical, religious and meteorological terms of Latin origin, but sometimes they have been preserved in more archaic forms than in the other Romance languages. When it comes to establish whether a French or Italian word comes from the vulgar Latin of the imperial epoch or whether it had been introduced through the cultivated Latin language of the Middle Ages, therefore much later, the Italian Professor Matteo Bartoli recom­mends the test of the Romanian language: if the word can be found in the Romanian language, then we are justified to believe that it was a word commonly used By the Roman population11. The “miracle” of the Latinity of the Romanian language is the more so surprising when one thinks that all the other Romance languages would have their Latin character strengthened during the Midale Ages and even later under the influence of the Latin language used in the church, in universities, administrative offices, etc. Unlike them, the Romanian language con­tinued to be subject to Byzantine and Slav influence (through the religious administration and culture) till the 18th century.


The   Dawns  of  Romanian  History

As was but natural, the five centuries ofjpint inhabitation with the Slavs have left traces as regards both the Romanian people and its language. The Romanian people is a Roman people with Slavs addi­tions in the same way as the French, the Italians and the Spaniards are Romance peoples with Germanic sediments. After the Slavs had defeated the Daco-Romans through bitter fighting, they changed the toponymy of the conquered territory: there are many riyers, mountains and villages that have Slav names. However, like all their predecessors, the Slavs were influenced by the autochthonous element: the Daco-Roman women managed to assimilate a considerable number of Slavs through marriages, the men obtained the right to enter the ruling class for military merits, and thereby to belong to it.

In the beginning, the Daco-Romans were “slaves” in the lands occupied by the new masters; the very name of “Romanian” had a deprecating sense from the social point of view, that of a man tied to the land. Later on, after a lot of struggles with the other barbarians, they came not only to “be appreciated by their “masters”, the Slav rulers, but they were even summoned to fight by their side. One of the first Romanian names recorded by the chronicles, Gelu of Transylvania (12th century), was seemingly the ruler of a Slavo-Romanian prin­cipality. The Daco-Romans assimilated the Slays, but they also civilised them to the effect that many of the words pointing to a rather advanced cultural level are words transmitted bv the Daco-Romans to the Slavs.



Part of the Slav mass crossed the Danube and ultimately gave birth to the Serbian and Bulgarian nations. Compact groups of Daco-Romans have survived everywhere in the Balkan Peninsula. The provinces south of the Danube became independent in the wake of a conflict with the emperor of Byzantium. The Asen brothers, Romanians by origin, were the founders of the second Romanian- Bulgarian Empire (1197-1258).

“Our much beloved brother in Christ, lonitza, illustrious king of Romanians and Bulgarians”, Pope Innocent III addressed him in a letter dated 1204. A rather impressive number of Romanians have survived in Macedonia and Istria to our davs. It is through these isles of Latinity – more numerous, of course, in the early Middle Ages -, spread from the Danube down to the Aegean Sea, that the Romanians in Dacia never lost contact with Byzantium. And this was undoubtedly the result of the fact that to them Byzantium was the successor of Rome, a centre irradiating civilisation, the live source of the Christian faith, the fulcrum of the civilised world.



There are few documents available about the life of the Romanians during the Middle Ages. It was only after the Tartar invasions that the name of Romanians began to be mentioned by the chroniclers. This is quite understandable if one thinks that the natives did not play a political role and chroniclers focused only on conquerors. Dacia was called Gothia even after the Goths had abandoned her territory, and Sclavonia, on account of the Slav invasion, much like the Romans called Scythia that part of Dacia once ruled over by Scythian kings.

The Romanians saw themselves compelled to go on with the hard life their Daco-Roman ancestors had lived, as they had to defend themselves against new invaders all the time. Actually, Dacia never ceased to be the gate of invasions. The barbarians were followed in by other barbarian peoples, who endeavoured to conquer the ancient Dacia Felix and to force their way to the south or to Central Europe: the Magyars, the Tartars and the Turks. The Romanian territory was appreciated not only in itself, for its riches, but also for the key-position, of incomparable strategic value, it held. Indeed, he who takes hold of the Danube course masters the communication ways linking Central Europe to the Near East, Crimea to Constantinople. An army that attacked Dacia from the south secured for itself the road to the very heart of Europe. This  would happen several centuries later when, curbing down the resistance put up by the Romanian forces, who though small in numbers had Fought valiantly, the Turks succeeded in reaching Vienna (1683).



Once the last groups of Slays had been assimilated, the Romanians set up a number of political formations that were called knezates, when they were small, and voivodates, when they were larger, as a result of the agglutination of several knezates.

The population was placed under the authority of a ruler, elected to make justice in time of peace and to have military prerogatives in the wartime. Such voivodates – and their rulers – are mentioned at times, but one cannot consider them as states proper yet. It is only after the great Tartar invasion of 1241 that we learn about two great independent Romanian principalities: Moldavia, between the Carpathians and the Dniestr, and Wallachia (Muntenia), between the great bend of the Danube and the Black Sea.

Those principalities were born from the need to defend the territory against the barbarians and all the nomads coming from the East. Politically, upon its birth the Romanian nation was forced to assume the mission of a frontier people.



True, hardly had the small principality of Wallachia (Muntenia), founded and consolidated by the energetic family of the Bessarabs, won its independence and got rid of Hungarian sovereignty, through the annihilation of Charles Robert’s army m the Carpathians, that in 1330 one witnesses the fast expansion of the newly-formed State towards the estuary of the Danube and the Black Sea. In late 14th centurythe prince of Muntenia called himself “master [...] over either side of Podunavia, and even farther, to the Great Sea”. That was the first Christian dynasty founded north of the Danube.



A few years later (1343), the groundwork of a second Romanian State, Moldavia, was laid by Prince Bogdan, who had abandoned his estate in northern Transylvania (a province under Magyar sovereignty) and crossed the Carpathians in order to be able to enjoy full political freedom. Moldavia soon acquired the features of a frontier State, of a defensive military body that had to cope with the Tartar invasions pouring from the East.”[...] The nomads always come from the East, while the State and nation founders find their support in the Car­pathians, only toj descend along the watercourses from the mountains down to the sea” , George Bratianu writes with good reason.



The Moldavian voivodes would have a number of fortresses with an East aspect built up on the bank of the Dniestr; from Hotin to Cetatea Alba (Akkerman), those fortresses would defend the borders  of the new Christian State against the nomads coming from the steppe. As frontier peoples, the Romanians of those two principalities would enter modern history with an as superb as devastating mission, that of defending the Latin-Western civilisation and Christianity against the Slav-Turanic threat. They would accomplish their mission at the cost of enormous sacrifices: for centuries on end the Romanians would terribly and anonimously bleed during intermittent struggles against the Turks and the Uralo-Slavs. Meanwnile, the West would find the necessary respite to heal its wounds, to strengthen and thus prepare itself for the future European hegemony.






LANDMARKS   OF   THE   ROMANIAN HISTORY

Europe in Front of Islam




The historic mission of the peoples is not always haloed by the same glamour. There are nations whose role in history is so obvious that nobody has ever thought to question it. But there are also less happy nations, who perform quite disagreeable missions without anybody noiticing it. A discreet, obscure role like the one played by the Daco-Romans descendants, the Romanians.

Ignored, or misunderstood at the best, the life of these nations is more intense. In addition to its tragism, their history is transfigured, one may say, by a permanent divine presence. These people do not know the respite, calmness and joy of creating in time. Incessantly attacked, they can only think while defending themselves. Their history is more than a series of struggles for independence or honour: it is a permanent war, for centuries on end, for their own survival. In each battle they risk everything: their right to life, to religion, to their language and culture, God is by their side each moment, because each moment they run the risk of disappearing for good and all.




The Romanians will assume that role, a role that is not manifest in ropean history; they will know the tragedy of living each moment of their life as if it were the last. A frontier people, the Romanians were subject to the most terrible barbarian invasions during the period they formed as a people, only to have, once they had organised their State, to cope with another big Asiatic threat – the Turks – for centuries on end. Nowadays, the historians discover the tragedy of the Romanians and of the peoples living in Southeast Europe, which bleed for five centuries in order to prevent the Islamic colossus from penetrating into the heart of Europe.



Islam threatened the very existence of Europe twice. The first time during the fulminating invasion of the Arabs, who crossed the Gibraltar Strait in AD 711, occupied Spain in AD 713 and took hold of Narbonne, threatening to conquer Aquitaine, in AD 720. It was due to the victory obtained by Charles Martel at Poitiers in AD 732 that the north of France was saved, and to Charlemagne that the Arabs were stopped in Spain.



The second time, Islam attacked Europe through its other extremity: Byzantium and the Balkan Peninsula. This time they were not fanatical Arabs, but a Turanic-Altaic population, the Turks, who were more ruthless, more ferocious and more numerous. They emerged in the history of Europe at the time of the first crusade: it is against them, the Seldjukian Turks, that the Western crusaders, on their way to Syria and Palestine, fought most violent battles. During the 13th century, Genghis Khan pushed the Turks back to the Euphrates, an area where the Turks multiplied and developed. Once the Tartar danger was over, they reappeared in Asia Minor. At the time, the Byzantine emperors had just conquered back Con­stantinople from the crusaders and were too exhausted to be able to cope with the Turks successfully. Osman attacked them in Asia Minor: In 1305 he occupied Nicaea and in 1326 Broussa, where he set up his capital. In 1340 the only Byzantine possession on the shores of Asia Minor was the town of Scutari. The Turks kept advancing, taking advantage of the weakness and confusion of the Christian world. In 1346 they settled in Thrace; in 1360 they moved their capital to Adrianople; in 1389 they defeated the Serbs at Kosovo, and in 1393 they took hold of Trnovo, the Bulgarians’ capital. And while their successes grew so did their barbarous acts: killings, plunders, destruction of churches, deportation of the population, conversion of the inhabitants to Islamism by violence, all that kept repeating endlessly in Southeast Europe.



In his by now classic work Mahomet et Charlemagne, Henri Pirenne, the Belgian historian, demonstrates that the Germanic invasions did not deal a deadly blow at the Mediterranean unity of the ancient world, which was destroyed once with the fast and unexpected advance of Islamism in the 8th century. “This advance resulted in the definitive separation of the East from the West, which put an end to Mediterranean unity. Africa and countries like Spain, which continued to participate in the Western community, now gravitated in the orbit of Baghdad. A different religion and a different culture emerged in all fields of life. The Western Mediterranean, now turned into a Muslim lake, ceased to be a route favouring commerce and the exchange of ideas, the way it had always been before”.

Broken up in the 8th century, through the penetration of Islam to the Mediterranean Sea and the Iberian Peninsula, the European uniity was threatened with definitive disappearance with the fulminating advance of the Turks in the 14th century. This time the Islamic danger is by far greater than it had been six centuries before. It menaced to short-circuit the direct links between Constantinople and the West and, annihilating the political organisations of the Romanians, Hungarians and Poles, to intercept the road leading to the heart of Europe, the other hand, it was to follow the route of the Tartars, Huns and Avars, though the starting point would be different. Meanwhile, what were the Western great powers doing? They quarrelling among themselves as usual. The armed conflict between the Western crusaders and the Byzantine emperor in the 13th century had considerably weakened the empire in Constantinople, Palace plots and revolutions, theological disputes and treason were pushing Byzantium to the edge of the precipice and nobody realised  how serious the danger was. In order to satisfy some personal ambitions, a number of princes had even allied themselves with the enemy of Christianity. In 1343, Emperor Cantacuzene, at the time warring with John Palaeologue, whom he wanted to depose, married his daughter to Turk in order to secure the latter’s support against his rival. Two years laterr, the Turks were laying foot on the shores of Europe.



It was only when the Turks got close to the Danube that the West began to realise the gravity and imminence of the danger. Unfortunately, it was only the Pope that understood; the others -wheter kings, princes or barons – would go on with their ridiculous claims and ambitions. When they finally decided to fight, they lacked command unity – a fact that we are going to demonstrate further below and failed to repel the Turkish threat. Luckily, by the Danube there were the Romanian principalities that would bear the brunt of the struggle, untill the limits of their endurance, for centuries on end.. History assessed, even if too late, the consequences of the conflicts between Byzantium and the crusaders, and of the Western political forces ignoring the Asiatic threat in the Balkan Peninsula. Europe lost Constantinople and the Straits; a great part of the continent lived in isolation from the Western culture for centuries; Christian peoples paid in blood and countless sacrifices for the lack of foresight of the Western political leaders. Only the Pope understood that the Turkish invasion meant the emer­gence of a terrible Asiatic force in history, a force that was really able to shatter Europe from its foundations and to destroy her.

Mircea the “Old” (1386-1418), Great Voivode of Muntenia

The Romanian people of the ancient province of Dacia was organised in three political formations: the great voivodate of Muntenia (Waflachia), the great voivodate of Transylvania, under the sovereignty of the Hungarian Crown, and the great voivodate of Moldavia. The Carpathians, a true backbone of the Romanian people, helped the population of Dacia survive the terrible hurricane of the barbarian invasions, while facilitating, on the other nand, the plurality of the political organisations. The tendency shown by those formations was to unite into a single State, as it had happened many a time in history long before the union of the two Danubian prin­cipalities (1866)* and the annexation of Transylvania (1918). However, the fulfilment of that aspiration was prevented by a lot of vicissitudes. Let us remind some of them.



Seeing that the Turks were advancing into the Balkan Peninsula and towards the Danube, the prince of Muntenia understood the im­minence of the danger and did not passively wait to be attacked. At the time, the ruler of Muntenia was one of the greatest sovereigns the Romanian people ever had: Mircea, called the “Old”, due to his long reign. Mircea’s foreign policy was dominated by one concern – the Islamic danger – and pursued just one goal: a Christian alliance. In 1389, when the Serbian voivode Lazar was waging war against Sultan Murad, Mircea sent the former a contingent of Romanian troops in support. The battle, which had become famous, took place at Kosovo; the sultan was assassinated in his tent by a fanatical Serb, and the command of the army was taken by the sultan’s son, Bayezid the “Lightning”, who defeated the Christians. Lazar died a heroic death in the battlefield. Conquered, Serbia finished by becoming a Turkish province, and would win her independence back only five centuries later.


In 1393 Bayezid won a resounding victory over the Bulgarians, in the wake of which Bulgaria was turned into a pashalik. Bayezid attacked him in 1394, when the two armies met at Rovine. The battle was extremely grim, the Turks were repelled and sustained great casualties. Unfortunately, the Romanian army was too exhausted to be able to capitalise on the victory and to liquidate the remnants of the Mohammedan forces. Shortly afterwards, Mircea was attacked again, this time by superior forces, and was forced to beat a retreat. He concluded an alliance treaty with Sigismund, King of Hungary, and the two armies managed to push the Turks beyond the Danube.



Those events were powerfully echoed in the West. The conquest of Serbia and Bulgaria disquieted all the European sovereigns. More­over, the resistance put up by Mircea had shown that the Muslims were anything but invincible. The moment had come for them to intervene. The crusade spirit was brought to life again, and Sigismund announced the organisation of a large-scale expedition against Bayezid. Contin­gents of cavalry troops began to pour in from all corners of Europe: the Duke of Burgundy with 6,000 horsemen; then the French, the Germans and the English under the command of the Duke of Lancaster. Venice, too, offered to contribute with her army.

The alliance was joined even by the emperor of Byzantium. In the summer of 1396, an army of 100,000 men set out, making for the Danube. None of them was familiar with the strategy employed by Bayezid. Only Mircea, who had fought against him, knew it. He offered at once to attack Bayezid with his Romanian army in the plain at Nicopolis, but the Duke of Burgundy claimed that honour for himself and his cavalry. He bravely advanced to the Turkish camp, but was soon surrounded and taken prisoner along with his troops, which were decimated. The dis­aster he met with had enormous repercussions for the Christian camp. The next one to assume the attack was King Sigismund, but his troops, too, were surrounded and decimated, while he himself made a hair­breadth escape. The battle of Nicopolis ended in a complete failure for the Christians. Only few of them survived the catastrophe, because the Turks massacred the prisoners as well. The Christian league broke up, and Mircea now waited for the unavoidable retaliation. Indeed, one year later, in 1397, a Turkish army crossed the Danube and attacked the Romanians. And there where the brave European contingents had failed the Romanian prince and his peasants did not: the lurks were defeated and forced to back out in confusion. In 1400 Mircea defeated them one more time: out of a Turkish army of some 60,000 men that had made an inroad into Hun­gary and claimed to cross Muntenia, only 6,000 ultimately managed to reach safety. Those victories secured a period of peace for the Romanian prince.



How can this miracle be accounted for? It should be noticed that, above anything else, the Romanians fought for their land and their own lives, while at Nicopolis the contingents of European knights had been hardly actuated by the feudal ideals of glory and military distinction. Moreover, Mircea was familiar with the way the Muslims fought, there­fore the idea of being taken unaware was completely out of the question. Likewise, one should not forget that, like all Romanian military com­manders, Mircea relied on an army of peasants. As urban life and the big municipal centres had been destroyed by the barbarians a long time before, the Romanian principality did not have what is commonly designated as feudal cavalry. Thie country was defended not by military, but by the people as a whole. This meant that the prince could rely on a very large rural army, which cost almost nothing, because each peasant brought along his own weapons and victuals. Once the war was over and the invader routed, the peasant would go back to his hereditary occupa­tion. Obviously, in most cases he had to rebuild his household from scratch, as in the meantime his village had been destroyed and his family scattered. The Romanians resorted to passive defence, much like their Daco-Roman ancestors used to do during the great barbarian invasions: the women, the elderly and the children would take refuge in forests and in the mountains, taking along as many supplies as they could carry, and if the village happened to lie in the route of the invader, they would set it on fire, poison the wells, and destroy the cereals they could not conceal in underground hiding places. That tragical life, full of uncer­tainty, lasted for centuries, but it helped the Romanian people survive by strengthening its endurance capacity.



After the victory won in 1400, Mircea reorganised the country, promoted commerce with the Western peoples ana had several monas­teries built up. Upon the death of Bayezid (1403), held in captivity by Timur Lenk or Tamerlane, the Khan of the Mongols, the sons of the former began to fight each other over the succession. At the time, the Romanian prince was strong enough to interfere in the domestic polio of the Mohammedans, by supporting Murad, who was eventually elected sultan in 1411. It was a glorious time for the Romanian prince: unfortunately, it did not last too long: in 1413 another son of Bayezid Mohammed, ascended the throne, and the wars between Turks ard Romanians recommenced.

In 1417 Mohammed attacked the fortresses on the bank of the Danube and his army crossed the river into Muntenia. An old man left alone in front of the invader, Mircea saw himself compelled to acknowledge the enemy’s superiority. He pledged to pay an annual tribute, thereby preserving the country s domestic freedom. He died one year later. Princep’s inter Christianas fortissimus et acerrimus (”the most powerful and bravest of the Christian princes”), Turkish chronicler Leunclavius:J called him. He was unquestionably the bravest and most versatile of all Christian princes, because by the firm military resistance he put up, leaving aside the final defeat, he succeeded in preserving Romanian territorial integrity and political autonomy. By resorting to resistance at any costs in front of an apparently unavoidable threat, Mircea saved the existence of the Romanian State of Muntenia. The foreign policy of all the princes of Muntenia had already been mapped out: resistance to the end, to the limits of one’s power, and acceptance of submission only when the Turks were ready to content themselves with an annual tribute in gold rather than come up with some humiliat­ing claim.

The treaties signed, called “capitulationem”, (latin for peace treaty), the turks agreed, in excgange for a tribute,  to preserve the independence of the romanian principalities., the faith of their subjects and the prices succession system. The price will be elected by the nobles, there will be no preaching of  Islam an no mosques on their teritory, the muslims cannot own land here.

The Crusade Spirit:

John Corvinus and Stephen the Great

The resistance put up by Mircea saved not only the existence of Muntenia, but also the formation and consolidation of the Romanian I State of Moldavia, which he protected against a possible Turkish attack. * Alexander the Good (1400-1432), the great Prince of Moldavia, had the respite  to organise his country during his long and relatively peaceful reign. He carried on an overtly defensive policy in order to avoid being overrun by the powerful neighbours like Poland and Hungary.

Unfortunately, the successors of Mircea and Alexander failed to preserve the glory of their predecessors, because struggles over the succession began in both Romanian states. As the succession system was not rigorous enough, the crown could be claimed by any of the prince’s sons, whose claims were backed by boyars or by foreign forces. Pallace revolutions, the plots and struggles for succession caused a lot of trouble to both principalities. In 1457 Moldavia was paying a tribute to the Sultan just because the prince was afraid he might lose his throne…

The crusade spirit, however, continued to exist. It can be seen in a certain rhythm of the Romanians’ defensive actions in front of Islam: the three Romanian principalities would alternate in sustaining the fight against the pagans. After Mircea’s Muntenia, the next to take over the mission of facing the attack would be John Corvinus’ Transylvania. John, son of Voicu, a brave Romanian commander serving the King of Hungary, became master of an estate at Hunedoara. It was John Corvinus of Hunedoara, great voivode of Transylvania, who defeated two Turkish armies in 1442, then penetrated with his troops into the heart of the Balkans (1443) and successfully defended the fortress of Belgrade (1456) against Mohammed II, the conqueror of Constantinople. John Corvinus of Hunedoara polarised the energies of all Romanians in Transylvania: he was joined by contingents of Romanian peasants, led by brave com­manders such as Simion of Cuhea, Gheorghe Mares, Mihai of Talu, Bogdan of Zalau, Dan Susca, etc., coming from as far as the parts of Maramures. John Corvinus enjoyed an enormous influence in the other two Romanian principalities. The Moldavian Prince Bogdan wrote him in 1450: “My country and yours are just one country”. The glory of John Corvinus, that of having been the only Christian prince to withstand Mohammed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, spread all over Europe. Ab unico Christi fortissimo athleta lohanne voivoda, the “most valiant among Christ’s champions”, Pope Calixtus III called him. And Pope Pius II mentioned in one of his documents the Romanian nationality of the hero: non tarn Hungaris quam Valachis ex quibus natus erat gloriam auxit (”he increased the glory of the Romanians, among whom he was born, rather than that or the Hungarians”).

The very year John Corvinus died (1456), the throne of Muntenia was ascended by one of the most bitter enemies of Islam, Vlad, also called the “Impaler”, due to the way in which he used to eliminate his foes : the torture of impaling. In 1462 he attacked the Turkish armies garrisoned by the Danube, annihilated them and, according to a con-temporary of the event, spread such terror that “he who has succeeded  in crossing into Anatolia should consider himself a lucky man”. Ob­viously, such an offence could not pass unpunished. Sultan Mohammed II, who had conquered Constantinople, could not tolerated an insult coming from a poor Romanian prince; he attacked Vlad that very year with a huge armv (chronicler Chalcochondil speaks of 250,000 men, but the figure is undoubtedly exaggerated). Vlad only had 10,000 men, but he knew so well the tactics of guerilla warfare that ultimately he inflicted great casualties upon the enemy. Mohammed’s army began to suffer from a lack of supplies, as Vlad kept attacking the supply routes. Eventually, the sultan decided to withdraw his troops. Unfortunately, Vlad’s brother, Radu the Handsome, accepted Mus­lim sovereignry’and usurped his throne. The career of one of the bravest Romanian princes was thus shortened through an act of felony.

Meanwhile, the mission of defending Christianity was taken over by the prince of Moldavia, Stephen, also called the “Great”. And indeed, he was the greatest Romanian ruler ever known. Stephen was not only a hero who waged forty wars during his long reign (1457-1504), in most of which he came off victorious, but also an extremely wise far-sighted statesman, who understood the historic mission of the Romanian people better than all his contemporaries. He was still very young when he took back his father’s throne from his father’s usurper, with armed help from his cousin, Vlad Tepes Dracula, but already at the time he felt he was called upon to accomplish a difficult and glorious mission, namely that of taking over the legacy of  Byzantiurn. In fact, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 had caused great commotion in the Christian world. Eastern Orthodoxy was now un­protected because the Greeks, the Bulgarians and the Serbs were under Turkish yoke, while the Russians counted even less as a political force. The only Orthodox Christians that had preserved their autonomy were the Romanians. Though tributary, by fits and starts, to the Porte, they had nevertheless preserved their independence. Prince Stephen did even more than that: he not only took over passively the legacy of Byzantium, but he also remade the Eastern Holy Empire. In other words, he recommenced the crusade, but the crusade of Moldavia rather than of Constantinople.

The Romanian voiyodes had already assumed the function of defenders of Eastern Christianity a long time before: they protected the monasteries and churches in the Balkan Peninsula, especially in Greece (the famous monasteries on Mount Athos), supported the clergy in the countries occupied by the Turks, offered shelter to Christian refugees, etc. The Byzantine culture, extinguished by now in its original centre, would be revived in a more brilliant form in the Romanian countries. Here it should be pointed out that, in terms of structure, that culture was not exclusively Greek, but also Latin. It was Stephen’s intention to revive the glory of Byzantium, that had collapsed under the blows of the Turks, in his own country. He dreamed to lead a new crusade for the reconquest of Constantinople.

But he was not just a dreamer: he was aware of the difficulties implied by that mission and carried on his plan by stages. After he had defeated the king of Hungary and after he had consolidated the borders with his Christian neighbours, Stephen ravaged the Turkish arrisons. Repraisals were not late in coming. In 1475, an army of 200,000 men, led by a famous general, Suleiman Pasha, crossed the Danube at Braila and began the invasion of Moldavia. Stephen contented himself with harassing the enemy, without attacking him yet. Once they arrived in a place he had chosen beforehand, a place surrounded by marshes lying at the foot of the hill on which there was the town of Vaslui, and while a thick fog was setting in, Stephen gave the order for the attack. The bulk of his troops had taken cover in a forest. The mission to begin the attack devolved upon a detach­ment (the strength of which was difficult to assess because of the fog) that had been concentrated right beyond the marshes. Con­vinced of their superiority, the Turks dashed at the enemy in that very direction. Then Stephen, together with the troops concealed in the forest, fell in their rear, destroyed their rearguard, disrupted their “regimental train” and inflicted heavy losses upon them. The chronicles say that 40,000 Turks were killed, several pashas were taken prisoners and a lot of flags were captured. The survivors beat the retreat towards the Danube, closely followed by the Moldavian cavalry, and decimated by cold and hunger. The pursuit lasted four days, and the spoils were enormous.

At a time when the Turks enjoyed tremendous military pres­tige, when their advance filled with terror the whole Europe, the reverberation of that victory must have been extraordinary high. Stephen and his Moldavians, whose names had been hardly retained by the West until then, became famous throughout the continent over night. The small principality lying down at the foot of the Carpathians, whose independence was rather precarious, was now for the Christian world a State many political men began to pin their hopes on”.

After the yictory, the Romanian prince ordered that public prayers for praising God should be held throughout the country, and that everybody kept a fast on bread and water for four days. He then ordered that a monastery be built up, for he was a religious man who always credited God with the honour of the triumph. He rewarded everybody who had cut a conspicuous figure during the battle, and ordered that some of the prisoners be impaled during a solemn meeting. “As many of these had offered to pay him enormous amounts of money as ransom, he told them this: ‘If you are as rich as that, why have you come to conquer my poor country?’”

However, Stephen knew that the sultan would seek to take revenge, and so he hurried to prepare his country for a new attack. He knew too well that he would not be able to withstand the sultan with his Moldavian troops alone. He needed reinforcements from all corners of the Christian world, and the crusade spirit itself had to be revived. This end in view, he sent all Christian princes a letter announc­ing his recent victorv, while nevertheless pointing to the need for European military collaboration. He told them how the emperor of the Turks,” who every day thinks about nothing else than how to subdue and destroy the entire Christian world”, had sent Suleiman Pasha along with an army of 120,000 men against him. “Upon seeing all this, We have taken up the sword and, with the help of Almighty God, We have faced the foes of the Christian world, We have defeated them, We have trampled them under foot and We have put them to the edge of Our sword, for which blessed be Our God. On nearing about this, the pagan emperor of the Turks decided to have his revenge and to come, in the month of May, with his head and all his might against Us and to subdue Our country, which is the gate of the Christian world and which God has spared so far [...] But if this gate, which is Our country, is lost – God forbids that -, then the entire Christian world will be in great danger. Therefore, we pray you to send us your chieftains to help Us against the enemies of the Christian world until it is not too late [...] As for us, we pledge, upon Our Christian faith and Our oath, to hold on and fight till death for the Christian belief, even if We were to lay down Our life, And this is what you, too, should do, at sea and on land, until with the help of God Almighty We will have cut off the enemy’s right hand”17.

It is quite difficult to find among the documents of the time a more deeper proof of the awareness of a historic mission and of the crusade spirit than this letter sent by the Romanian prince to the European sovereigns. Never has Stephen’s awareness that he was fighting for the entire Christian world been fully emphasised; he thought, and with good reason, that the Romanian country was a gate between two worlds: the barbarian world and the Christian civilisation. “If this gate is lost [...] then the entire Christian world will be in great danger”. Unfortunately, the prediction of the Romanian prince was to be proved true during the following century. Nowadays, we understand very well that in late 14th century the crusade spirit was gone for ever. It was in vain that Stephen hoped to revive and restore the Eastern Holy Empire. The letter he sent to the European sovereigns had no positive result. The Pope congratu­lated him on his “endeavours and zeal in defence of the Christian faith and in his fight against the treacherous sect of the Turks” and granted him the title of “Athleta Christi“, but apologised for being able to send him money only the following year, “on account of the cares that are lying heavy on me now”. And whatever other countries sent to Stephen was confiscated by the king of Hungary, jealous on the fame and prestige of the Romanian prince!

Once the moments of general joy over Stephen’s resounding victory were over, the Christian world was again divided by in-treagues and ambitions. Meanwhile, the enemy did not let the grass grow under its foot: an enormous mass of soldiers, headed by Mohammed II himself, set out to annihilate the insolent prince that dared to offend the conqueror pf Constatinople. The expedition began with the storming the storming of two naval fortresses – Chilia and Cetatea Alba – that were guarding the shores of the Black Sea and for the defence of which a lot ofRomanian blood had been shed for centuries on end. The Turks’ attack was of no avail, as they failed to conquer the two fortresses. As a result, the Turks decided to penetrate into inland Moldavia. What they came across on their way were just ashes and ruins. They advanced through ravaged, deserted and hostile coun­ties. Stephen had only his army of peasants, but he had had to let them go, because the Tartars had invaded the country from the East and the peasants had to be given the chance to defend their lands. As he had only 10,000 men, Stephen waited for the Turks at Valea Alba, near the mountains. On July 25, 1476 he attacked the enemy by surprise, hoping to spread panic among its ranks; the Turks, however, managed to tighten their ranks and then counterattacked, pushing the Romanian troops towards the forest. The battle was lost beforehand, and the stubborn resistance put up by Stephen’s horsemen did nothing but increase the number of casualties. The prince, accompanied by just a few small groups of fighters, took refuge in the mountains.

The road to Suceava, Moldavia’s capital, now lay open in front of the sultan. The town was conquered and burned, but the massive fortress whithstood the siege. The same thing happened with the other two fortresses, Hotin and Neamt, which were most violently besieged. In the meantime, Stephen was in the mountains, trying to bring his forces together. Soon he recommenced the guerilla warfare, harassing the Turkish armies and destroying their supplies. Hunger began to play havoc among the invading troops, and so did a plague that began to decimate them. Failing to curb down the Moldavians’ resistance, Mohammed ordered the retreat. Stephen’s peasants and horsemen began to pursue that exhausted decimated mass to the border, inflicting heavy losses upon it. The formidable army of Mohammed II, conqueror of Constantinople, was now a shadow of what it had been. Stephen preserved his throne, and Moldavia – her fortresses, frontiers and autonomy.

That had been a hard and decisive experience. Stephen understood that the crusade spirit had gone for ever. True, the European powers started to negotiate with the enemy of the Christian world. In 1476, King Casimir of Poland concluded an understanding with the sultan; the Venetians concluded peace in 1479; in 1483 Hungary concluded a non-aggression treaty tor five years with the Turks, it was in vain that Stehan wrote the Dodge of Venice in 1478, reminding him that he had not kept his promises, “for the Christian princes are fighting against each other instead of uniting to fight the pagan”. It was in vain that he reminded the Doge that “thanks to him many Christian princes had been living in peace for four years”; that the two fortified ports, Chilia and Cetatea Alba, were still two open gates for the Christian nations at the Black Sea, two ports thanks to which “Moldavia is a bulwark for Hun­gary and Poland”. It was to no purpose that he desperately wrote: “If God may want that I am not helped, then one of the following two things will most surely happen: either this country will perish, or I will be forced by circumstances to yield to the pagan. But this latter thing I will never do, because I would rather die a hundred thousand times than do this. I pin all mv hopes on you”.

In 1484 tne road to Stephen lay open in front of Sultan Bayezid. He besieged the two fortresses by the seaside, actually the only fortified points the Christian world had at the Black Sea, and succeeded in conquering them. That was a great loss for the Moldavian prince, as he was compelled to humiliate himself in front of the king of Poland for the sake of securing an ally. In 1486 he was again alone, but again victorious either, this time at  Scheia. That was his last victory over the Turks. Instead of helping him, the Poles concluded a peace treaty with the sultan at Kolomea in 1489. Three years later, after he had lost the fortresses at the sea, the brave “Athleta Christi” saw himself compelled to pay a tribute to the sultan.

Stephen spent the rest of his life trying to fortify the frontiers with his Christian neighbours. He possessed two small estates in Transylvania – Ciceu and Cetatea de Balta. In the wake of a successful war he waged against Poland, a war that had begun by an attack launched by John Albert, the new Polish king, Stephen took hold of Pocutia, a province in northern Moldavia. The life of that great Christian prince, disappointed with his dream – a crusade against the pagan -, was drawing to an end. An earlier  wound, which a Venetian physician had in vain tried to mend, reopened. Stephen died in 1504 at the age of 70. The whole country mourned him, as  it had understood that its best prince had gone.




Michael the Brave

and the Union of All Romanian Principalities

Twenty years after the death of Stephen the Great the people of Europe began to grasp the role played by the Romanian countries in defending the Western European Christian world. Quite true, once the Romanian bulwark had been overcome, the Turks made preparations to attack Hungary and Central Europe. The last Hungarian king, Louis II, made desperate efforts to save his country, exhausted by the abuses of the privileged classes. He seeked to secure the support of the king of Poland, sadly remembering the force of Moldavia, a “fortress and a bulwark for Hungary and Poland” (Terra ilia est velut propugnaculum et antemurale tarn regni Ungariae quam Poloniae). The king could always be found amidst the Romanians of Transylvania, from among whom he chose his most valiant military commanders. Romanian noblemen Fiatu and Racovita were granted land as a reward for the bravery they had proved in battle (1519). In 1521 the ruler of Severin was Nicalau Carlisle, a Romanian. Ioan Drag, who died a hero death during the battle of Mohacs, was the second nobleman in rank of the kingdom, coming right after the Palatine.

Nevertheless, the defence of Central Europe could be anything but improvised. The true fortresses, the Romanian territories, were still lost. In 1526, at Mohacs, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent annihilated not only the Hungarian army but the Hungarian State itself. The king and the pick of the Hungarian aristocracy lost their lives during that sanguinary decisive battle. The Hungarian kingdom ceased to exist for 160 years, being divided into three parts: the western part was taken by Ferdinand, brother of King Charles V; Hungary proper, with her capital in Buda, ended by becoming a Turkish possession (pashalik), and Transylvania was turned into a principality tributary to the Porte, the princes or which had to be confirmed by the sultan.

At the time, the three Romanian countries – Moldavia, Muntenia and Transylvania – had the same status: they were tributary to the Porte, but preserved the freedom to organise themselves as it pleased them to. With the time, that sort of political organisation could lead to the union of the three countries, and it was precisely this that Suleiman was afraid of (omnia haec regna in unnum cohaerent), for which reason he preserved strong garrisons by the frontiers. The Romanian bloc began at least to be seen as a political force. It was then that the European sovereigns of Latin origin began to remember this people. Nicholaus Olachus (Valachus): “These are the most famous races and among them there is that of your ancestors, the Romanians. We all know that your relatives are descendants of the Romans, the masters of the world, that is why they are called Romanians. And the people of your race stand out through their gallantry, and there are famous commanders among them such as John Corvinus of Hunedoara and King Matthias”.

Suchlike commanders continued to emerge in 16th century Romanian history. In Moldavia, Stefanita (1517-1527), grandson of Stephen the Great, defeated the Turks several times. Another prince, Peter Rares (1527-1538; 1541-1546), an illegitimate son of Stephen, was involved in an armed conflict against Suleiman. But the one who seriouslv set his mind to remove Turkish sovereignty was John the Brave (1572-1574), who crossed like a lightning M9ldavia’s history, but cut a conspicuous figure due to his military genius and his extraordinary courage. If one takes into account the reduced number of his troops, his victories look incredible. He defeated large armies several times, and was never defeated. A victim of betrayal, he had a tragic death, as would happen to Michael the Brave, one of the greatest Romanian princes, a few years later.

This latter prince ascended the throne of Muntenia in 1593, when Europe seemed to make ready to repel the Turks one more time. Upon the suggestion of the Pope and on the advice of the Jesuits, Emperor Rudolf  II set up an anti-Islamic league with the help of the principalities of Moldavia and Transylvania. Michael whole-heartedly joined the anti-Muslim policy, refused to pay any more taxes to Constantinople, and won his first victories over the Turks in 1594. One year later, he defeated a large army at Calugareni. That victory made him famous throughout the Christian world, and earned him the esteem of Emperor Rudolf II. A few years later, his country enjoyed complete freedom. In 1599, however, Sigismund Bathorv, the Prince of Transylvania, renounced the throne in favour of his brother Andrew, who maintained close contacts with Poland and contemplated, upon the latter’s sugges­tion, to conclude peace with the sultan. If he did, Michael ran the  risk of being encircled. Apprehending the danger, the brave prince asked the emperor for permission to cross the Carpathians, defeated Bathory at Selimbar in 1599 and proclaimed himself voivode of Transylvania.

As he feared that the throne of Moldavia might be acquired by a prince inclined to pay tribute to the Turks and to let himself influenced  by the Poles’ anticrusade policy, Michael and his troops entered the neigh­bouring country, occupied it without fight and banished the prince. In 1600 Michael the Brave  was the political ruler of the entire Romanian people, which, starting with the dawns of modern history, had been divided into three principalities. “Transylvania, the great passion of my life”, Michael the Brave wrote…

He had realised that, in order to fulfil its historic mission, the Romanian nation had to be united into one single State. Only such a State could stand as a definitive obstacle in the way of Muslim attacks. “Everything I have done has been for the sake of the Christian faith”, Michael wrote, “seeing how much suffering there is in store for our poor Christians. It is with great difficulty that I have begun to raise this poor country of mine, in order to turn it into a shield for the entire Christian world’. The idea of Romania’s historic mission as citadel of the Chris­tian Western world was always present in a latent form in the conscious­ness of all great Romanian princes. But it would take the world centuries to understand the historic need of the unity of the Romanian principalities, in the absence of which nothing lasting could be built up in either Central or Eastern Europe.

Betrayed by an Austrian general, Michael was murdered in 1601, and so the union of the Romanians was again postponed. But history has its revenge. Twenty years after the death of Stephen the Great, the Turks destroyed the Hungarian kingdom and Buda was turned into a pashalik. Eighty years after the death of Michael the Brave, the Turks besieged Vienna (1683). It was only then that the role played by the Romanians was understood: they had dealt terrible blows at the in­vader, blows that would delay for centuries its triumphal march towards the heart of Europe, they never spared their blood, and all this in order to save Christian culture and the Western civilisation .

Paving  the Way for the  Modern Times

The 17th century meant a brilliant period in the history of Romanian culture. One witnesses a profound artistic revival, the acme of which was the so-called “Brancoveanu” style. The throne was several times acquired by princes full of political and moral qualities: Matthew Bessarab (1635-1654), for instance, Basil the Wolf (1634-1653), Serban Cantacuzene (1678-1688), Constantine Brancoveanu (1688-1714). The latter became famous for his cultural and administrative reforms. In addition to this, Brancoveanu was a very religious man; he had refused to betray his faith and his homeland, and was beheaded in Constan­tinople, after being forced to witness the execution of his four sons.

Meanwhile, another political force was preparing itself to enter history: the Russians. In the dispute between the Turks and the Mus­covites, the Romanians began to side with the Christians. Moreover, while the Muslim colossus was on the wane, the counteroffensive of the Westernpowers was under way: Buda was conquered in 1686; after the Peace of Karlowitz, the Austrians conquered Hungary and Transyl­vania. During Peter the Great’s time the Russians attempted to take hold of the Danube mouths, but they were repelled. As a result of the fact that the Romanian prince ruling at the time, Demetrius Cantemir (1710-1711) one of the most illustrious scholars of the epoch – had sided with the Russians, the Turks did not trust the autochthonous I princes any more and decided to install foreign princes instead. Most of them were Greeks, although there were a few Romanians, too, who managed to rule. That was the sad period of the Phanariotes. Sad not so much because the princes were appointed directly by Constantinople (some of them proved to be excellent governors), but because their presence contributed to the decay of the old Romanian virtues. With the time, the army as a national force ceased to exist. The aristocracy changed its social function: instead of being the owner of the land, as it used to, it turned into a class of civil servants attached to the princely court.

During that period Romania lost, for the first time in her history, territories which she had always known how to defend throughout the centuries. In 1775 the Austrians bought from an already weakened Turkey a part of Moldavia, which they named Bucovina (after the word bucov, meaning “great forest” in Ukrainian), in order to give the impression that the region in question was an autonomous one. It was in vain that Voivode Grigore Ghica pro­tested against that theft, for he was killed by the Turks in 1777. In fact, the Turks were no longer capable of defending the territories formerly conquered by the sultans. In 1792 the Russians reached the Dniester, the eastern border of Moldavia. Seeing the obvious decline of the Ottoman Empire and trying to achieve Peter the Great’s dream, they took by force half of Moldavia from the Turks, which they abusively called Bessarabia (1812). That rape has never been either forgiven or forgotten by the Romanians.

During that sad 18th century, the Romanians of Transylvania rose in rebellion against the Magyar oligarchy, hoping that Emperor Joseph II, a liberal mind, would lend an ear to their suffering (Transylvania had been a province of the Austrian Empire for one century). A revolution of the Romanian peasants, led by three brave men – Horea, Closca and Crisan – took place over 1784-1785. The insurrection was squashed in blood, and its leaders tortured and killed. That trial, however, contributed to strengthening social resistence. The Romanian intellectuals in Transylvania sent the emperor Supplex Libellus Valachorum (1791), claiming equal treatment, he emperor found the petition justified and the claims modest; this notwithstanding, the Magyar noblemen refused to yield any of their privileges. Despite this, the Romanians in Transylvania continued to fight. Some of them sent their sons to Rome to learn Romanian history there, and began to publish books in Latin and in the european living languages, asserting their rights.


Revolutions and Wars for Independence and Unity

The lowest point in Romanian history was the moment the Mol­davian territories were torn away, a moment that marked the beginning of revival and regeneration. In 1821, Tudor Vladimirescu gave the signal for a rebellion against the abuses of the Phanariote princes. Betrayed by a Greek military chief, he was murdered, but his sacrifice was not useless. The sultans renounced their privilege to appoint Greek princes, restoring Moldavia and Muntenia their old right to self-governing through the election of Romanian rulers.

One generation later, the first step would be made towards Romanian unification into one single State. Muntenia and Moldavia elected one and the same prince, Alexander Cuza (January 24, 1859), for a period of seven years, but the two countries finished by being definitively united. The neighbouring countries were hostile to the union, but this time the circumstances favoured the Romanians. During his reign, Prince Cuza carried on some important social reforms, which made him very popular among the peasants. After the seven years period had passed, the decision was taken to elect a prince from a foreign dynasty, in order to discourage in a radical way the ambitions of some Romanian princely families, whose quarelling over the throne had caused a lot of trouble to the country. The throne was offered to the Count of Flanders, the Belgian king’s brother, who turned down the proposal. The next proposal was made to Prince Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, at the time aged 27, who was accepted by the Romanian people through a plebiscite. Prince Carol was enthusiasti­cally met in Bucharest on May 10, 1866. The Romanians foresaw that during his reign Romania would be restored her freedom and honour.

True, the new prince availed himself of all external political circumstances to defend the Romanians’ rights. He began by strengthening the national army, by organising the political status of the country, by reviving its social, economic and financial institutions. In 1877, upon the outbreak of a new Russo-Turkish war, King Carol proclaimed the country’s absolute independence and, following a defeat suffered by the Russians, he ordered his army to cross the Danube. “The Turks have gathered large masses of troops at Plevna and are overwhelming us”, Great Duke Nicholas, the commander of the Russian army, wired Prince Carol on July 31,1877, asking for the urgent intervention of the Romanians. Prince Carol entered action only after he had secured the supreme command of the Romanian-Russian troops at Plevna. In December that year Plevna fell, and two months later the Turks sued for peace. The conflict between the Turks and the Romanians that had lasted for over five centuries ended with the victory of the latter. After the Balkan countries had won their independence in the wake of the 1877 war, Romania ceased to fight her former enemy…

The reign of Carol I was the longest in Romania’s history, as it lasted 49 years, till October 10, 1914. On May 10, 1881 Romania was proclaimed a kingdom. King Carol and Queen Elisabeth (better known as Carmen Sylva, her pen name) had no male offspring. Prince Fer­dinand, one of Carol’s nephews, was elected heir to the throne in 1889. During Carol’s long and fruitful reign, Romania had the opportunity, for the first time miner history, to concentrate all energies on a creative work. After barely fifty years, Romania had become a modern country, striving to make up for the time lost in endless battles.

It was during the reign of Ferdinand the Loyal (1914-1927) that the union of all Romanian provinces into one State was achieved. In 1848 the Romanians of Transylvania, led by tribune Avram lancu, had triggered off the last armed revolution against the Magyar oligarchy, without any success though. When World War I (1914-1918) broke put, Romania entered the conflagraton in order to liberate the Romanians of Transylvania. Her armies crossed the Carpathians, being met with flowers everywhere. The Romanian frontiers, however, formed the widest European front with the exception of the Russian one (three times wider than the Franco-German front). Attacked by large Ger­man-Bulgarian troops at Turtucaia, the Romanian troops were com­pelled to withdraw on to new fronts. A great part of the country was occupied. Despite this, in 1917 the Romanians passed on to the counter-offensive and won the brilliant victories of Marasti and Marasesti (July 24 and August 19, 1917, respectively). It was then that the desertion of the Russian troops, contaminated by the revolu­tion, occurred. In October the revolution degenerated into a communist revolution, and a significant part of the Romanian military forces were involved in the disarming of the Bolshevik regiments that were devas­tating the country’. Through the Peace of Brest-Litovsk the German troops occupied Ukraine as far as Odessa. Attacked from everywhere and at the same time forced to fight the mutined Russian regiments, Romania sued for an armistice.

The trouble of having been forced to interrupt fighting was com­pensated for by some good news: Bessarabia, that part of Moldavia that had been taken away by the Russians in 1812, proclaimed herself independent under the name of the Republic of Moldavia on January 27, 1918, and on April 10, 1918 the National Assembly of the young republic voted its union to Romania. The decision was taken by virtue of the principle put forward by the Russian revolutionaries according to which all the peoples of the former Tsarist Empire had the right to freely decide upon their own destiny. When, faced with the defeat, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy began to disintegrate a few months later, the Romanians in Bucovina and Transylvania, too, decided the “uncon­ditional and definitive union with the Romanian Kingdom” (on Novem­ber 28 and December 1, respectively). In this way, after numberless sufferings and disillusions, the Romanian people accomplished its his­toric destiny that had been forseen by Stephen the Great and achieved for a short while by Michael the Brave.

In 1919, the communist revolution broke out in Hungary as well by the setting up of the bloody  dictatorship of Bela Kun. Attacked by his troops, the Romanian army crossed the Tisza on July 24, 1919 and entered Budapest, defeating the communists. Bela Kun ran away and Hungary was saved from his bloody dictatorship. It was the second time that the Romanians suppressed a communist revolution in Central Europe; the first one had been the revolution of the Russian troops in the territory of Romania; the second one was the triumphant Bolshevik revolution in Hungary, which endangered Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania alike.

King Ferdinand I the Loyal lived to see the fulfilment of the Romanians century-old dream: the union of all Romanians into one single State. And he died before that unity would be changed by historical circumstances. During the reign of his son, King Carol II (1930-1940), Romania received the Soviets’ ultimatum (June 27,1940) and forced by Italy and Germany to accept the Vienna Dictate, following which she lost Bessarabia, a part or Bucovina and half of Transylvania. Four million Romanians where thereby forced to live outside the frontiers of their homeland.

During the first year of King Michael I’s reign, who ascended the throne under the most difficult circumstances in the entire modern history of his country (September 8,1940), when ruler of the State was Marshal Antonescu, the territories annexed by the Soviets were taken back. It is those territories that account for the entering of the Romanian army in the war against the USSR. The conquest of half of Moldavia has not only a strictly national significance. The Romanians are, indeed, the defenders of the Danube mouths and the guarrantors of the international freedom and European function of that river, called with good reason the “eight sea of Europe”. Nowadays, the Romanians defend the liberty of this big river against Slav imperialism much like, for centuries on end, they defended the freedom of the Black Sea and of the Danube mouths against Ottoman imperialism. The war against the Soviets has not only a spiritual significance, that of defending Christian and European assets against Euro-Asiatic mysticalness; it also implies an European geopolitical element: international freedom for the Danubian basin.