Archaeological excavations show that the land now known as Romania has been inhabited for thousands of years. Agriculture was introduced in the 6th century BC , and by the 3rd century BC the Cucuteni civilization had produced polychrome pottery. The Dacians, of Thracian stock, had become a distinct people by the end of the 1st century BC . The kingdom of Dacia reached the highest stage of its development toward the end of the 1st century AD , in the reign of Decebalus (87–106), but after four years of war, Dacia fell to the Roman Emperor Trajan in AD 106. The withdrawal of the Romans in AD 271 left the Romanians a partly Christianized Dacian-Roman people, speaking Latin and living in towns and villages built on the Roman pattern. In the following centuries, as Dacia was overrun by successive waves of invaders, the early Romanians are believed to have sought refuge in the mountains or to have migrated south of the Danube River. There the Dacian-Romanians, assimilating Slavic influences, became known by the 7th century as Vlachs (Walachians). The Vlachs apparently remained independent of their neighbors, but came under Mongol domination in the 13th century.
The establishment of the two principalities of Walachia and Moldavia in the late 13th and early 14th centuries opened one of the most important chapters in the history of Romania. Walachia came under Turkish suzerainty in 1476 and Moldavia in 1513; 13 years later, Transylvania, which had been under Hungarian control since 1003, also passed into Turkish hands. The tide of Ottoman domination began to ebb under Russian pressure in the second half of the 17th century; in 1699, under the Treaty of Karlowitz, Transylvania was taken by Austria (later Austria-Hungary), and in 1812, Russia obtained Bessarabia, a section of Moldavia, from the Turks. The Congress of Paris in 1856, which ended the Crimean War, guaranteed the autonomy of the principalities of Walachia and Moldavia and forced Russia to return the southernmost part of Bessarabia to Moldavia. The two principalities formed a union in 1859, with Alexandru Ioan Cuza as its first prince, but he was replaced in 1866 by Carol I of the house of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, under a new governing document that proclaimed Romania a constitutional monarchy. At the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Romania obtained full independence from Turkey but returned southern Bessarabia to Russia. Under the rule of Carol I, Romania developed into a modern political and economic unit.
As a result of the Balkan Wars in 1912–13, Romania gained southern Dobruja from Bulgaria. Carol I died in 1914 and was succeeded by Ferdinand I. In World War I, Romania joined the Allies and as a result acquired Bessarabia from Russia, Bukovina from Austria, and Transylvania from Hungary. The establishment of a greatly expanded Romania was confirmed in 1919–20 by the treaties of St. Germain, Trianon, and Neuilly. In the early postwar period, Ion Bratianu (son of a 19th-century premier) instituted agrarian and electoral reforms. Both Ferdinand and Bratianu died in 1927. A brief regency period under Iuliu Maniu, Peasant Party leader, was followed in 1930 by the return to Romania of Carol II, who, having earlier renounced his right of succession, now deposed his nine-year-old son, Michael (Mihai), and established a royal dictatorship.
As economic conditions deteriorated, Fascism and anti-Semitism became increasingly powerful, and Carol II sought to appease both Germany and the USSR, which by August 1939 had concluded their nonaggression agreement. In 1940, Romania ceded Bessarabia and northern Bukovina to the USSR, northern Transylvania to Hungary, and southern Dobruja to Bulgaria. In the same year, Carol II abdicated in favor of his son Michael, and German troops entered the country. Romania joined the Axis in war against the Allies in 1941. As Soviet forces drove into Romania in 1944, a coup overthrew the wartime regime of Gen. Ion Antonescu on 23 August, and Romania joined the Allies against Germany. A Communist-led coalition government under Premier Petru Groza was set up in March 1945. King Michael was forced to abdicate on 30 December 1947, and the Romanian People's Republic was proclaimed. The Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 fixed Romania's frontiers as of 1 January 1941, with the exception of the border with Hungary, which was restored as of 1 January 1938, so northern Transylvania was once again part of the Romanian state.
The Communist constitution of 1948 was superseded in 1952 by a constitution patterned more directly on that of the USSR. In international affairs, Romania followed a distinctly pro-Soviet line, becoming a member of CMEA and the Warsaw Pact. Internally, the regime nationalized the economy and pursued a policy of industrialization and the collectivization of agriculture. During the 1960s, however, and especially after the emergence of Nicolae Ceausescu as Communist Party and national leader, Romania followed a more independent course, increasing its trade with Western nations and avoiding a definite stand in the Sino-Soviet dispute. In 1967, Romania was the only Communist country that did not break diplomatic relations with Israel following the Six-Day War. In 1968, Romania denounced the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia, and the USSR-Romania treaty of friendship and cooperation expired; a new accord was not signed until 1970. Further examples of Romania's independent foreign policy in the 1970s were the gradual improvement of relations with China, numerous bilateral agreements with the nations of Western Europe, and President Ceausescu's state visit in December 1973 to Washington, where he signed a joint declaration on economic, industrial, and technical cooperation with the United States. In the 1970s and early 1980s, Romania also became increasingly involved in the nonaligned movement. In 1982, Ceausescu called on the USSR to withdraw from Afghanistan.
In contrast to some other East European countries, there was relatively little political and cultural dissent in Romania during the first 30 years of Communist rule. In 1977, however, about 35,000 miners in the Jiu Valley, west of Bucharest, went on strike because of economic grievances. Afterwards, the Romanian Communist Party hierarchy was frequently reshuffled, ostensibly to improve economic management, with Ceausescu and several members of his family (particularly his wife, Elena) increasing their power.
In the early and mid-1980s, there were a number of work stoppages and strikes caused by food and energy shortages. In early 1987, Ceausescu indicated that Romania would not follow the reform trend initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev in the USSR.
The progress of perestroika (restructuring) in the Soviet Union, intensified by the wave of "velvet revolutions" which rolled across Eastern Europe in autumn 1989, only served to highlight the repressiveness of the Ceausescu regime, which had all but starved and frozen the country to death in its attempt to repay international indebtedness, which President Ceausescu said in April 1989 had been US $10 billion. The regime was also single-mindedly pushing ahead with the "systemization plan" begun in March 1988, which intended to force about half the country's peasants into urbanized "agro-industrial" complexes by bulldozing their villages.
The policy was especially offensive to the 2.5 million Hungarians in Romania's western regions, who understood the policy to be an attempt to further undercut their cultural autonomy. In mid-December 1989, abysmal economic conditions and ethnic tension led to spontaneous demonstrations in the western city of Timisoara. When the Securitate, Romania's dreaded secret police, attempted to deport Laszlo Toekes, a popular clergyman who had been a leading spokesperson for the local Hungarians, thousands of people took to the streets. Troops were summoned, and two days of rioting ensued, during which several thousand citizens were killed.
News of the riot, and of the government's handling of it, fanned further demonstrations around the country. Probably unwisely, President Ceausescu went ahead with a planned three-day visit to Iran. Upon his return, he convened a mass rally at which he attempted to portray his opponents as fascists. However, the rally turned into an anti-government demonstration, in which the army sided with the demonstrators.
Ceausescu and his wife attempted to flee the country, but were apprehended, tried, and summarily executed, on 25 December 1989. Several days of fighting raged, as the Securitate and the army battled for power. A hastily assembled Council of National Salvation took power, repealing a number of Ceausescu's most hated policies and laws. The Council's president was Ion Iliescu, a former secretary of the Communist Party, who had been one of several signatories to a letter, which had accused Ceausescu of gross mismanagement of Romania's economy, made public in March 1989. The prime minister, Peter Roman, was also a prominent Communist.
Although the Council contained some non-Communists, the majority had been prominent officials in Ceausescu's regime, which prompted almost continuous public protests. Despite a continued government monopoly on media, political opposition groups managed to rally public support to demand the banning of the Communist Party, and the widening of the government. In February 1990, Iliescu agreed, replacing the 145-member Council of National Salvation with a 241-member Council of National Unity, which included members of opposition parties, national minorities, and former political prisoners; it also contained the full membership of the former Council, and Iliescu remained president.
Parliamentary elections were held in May 1990 against a background of continued civil unrest, especially in the Hungarian west. Although international observers considered the elections to have been generally fair, the National Salvation Front—now a political party—made ruthless use of its media monopoly to take about two-thirds of the parliamentary seats from a divided, disorganized, and inexperienced opposition. Iliescu was elected president, with about 85% of the votes, in a contest in which there had been more than 94% voter turnout.
The conviction that ex-Communists had "stolen" the election brought continued demonstrations in Bucharest and elsewhere. In April 1990, in a move that was criticized internationally, the Iliescu government trucked in miners from the northern part of the country, urging them to beat up and disperse the demonstrators, ending what threatened to become a coup d'etat against Iliescu.
After the failure of those demonstrations, the opposition began to link up into parties, hoping to challenge Iliescu and his party in the next parliamentary elections, to be held in 1992. Popular discontent, however, continued to find more direct expression. Angry that the promises which had brought them to Bucharest in June had not been kept, the miners returned in September 1991, this time to link up with many of the opposition figures that they earlier had attacked, now to mount a mass attack on the government. Iliescu had no choice but to dismiss Prime Minister Roman, replacing him with Theodor Stolojan, an economist who managed to contain popular discontent until the general elections of September 1992, largely by delaying implementation of economic reforms. The parliamentary elections demonstrated a wide diffusion of political support. Iliescu's National Salvation Front won 28% of the seats, making it the largest party, but the Democratic Convention, an anti-Communist opposition coalition with a strong monarchist wing, took 20%, while former Prime Minister Roman's National Salvation Front, now opposed to Iliescu, took 10%. The remaining 42% of the seats were divided among five other parties.
The popular vote for president showed that Iliescu still had support, although it had dropped to just above 60% of the electorate. The success of his opponent, Emil Constantinescu, a former rector of Bucharest University, demonstrated the continuing hostility to Iliescu and the other ex-Communists who had managed to retain power.
Iliescu's dismissal of Stolojan, in November 1992, was widely seen as a recognition of that significant minority's opposition. Iliescu chose Nicolae Vacaroiu as prime minister, who had no earlier ties to the Ceausescu or Iliescu governments. However, the move was addressed as much to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the rest of the international financial community, which had emerged as Romania's chief source of support. Continued political instability and the fitful pace of privatization, combined with a strong nationalist bloc in the parliament which warned against "selling out" Romania to foreigners, all kept foreign investment quite low, a total of only about $785 million for all of 1990–94. As a consequence Romania has had to rely upon loans from Western sources, especially the IMF, piling up foreign debt at the rate of about $1 billion a year. In return for this infusion of cash the foreign donors have set stringent requirements of economic reform, which Romania is not finding easy to meet.
Romania's fitful progress toward democratization exacerbates the social pressures of its continued economic decline. Romanians began the post-Ceausescu period as among the poorest people in Europe, and their economy worsened for several years. Inflation for 1992 was 210%, and more than 300% for 1993, while unemployment was almost 10%. Most significantly, production fell for the first couple of years after the anti-communist revolution. Beginning in 1994, however, Romania began slowly turning its economy around. In 1996, it even applied for membership in the EU—although it knew that admission before 2000 was doubtful.
In November 1996, presidential and parliamentary elections were held as the economy, while still fairly grim, continued to improve in several sectors. Popular opposition to the excommunist Iliescu had grown strong leading up to the elections, mainly due to broken promises of economic security and widespread corruption that saw the enrichment of a small clique of ex-communist insiders amid general economic hardships across the country. Iliescu also failed to deliver on many privatization schemes, angering the middle-class merchants. In the election's first round on 3 November, the Democratic Convention Alliance of Opposition Groups, led by Emil Constantinescu, Iliescu's 1990 opponent, earned the highest percentage of votes (30%) followed by Iliescu's Party of Social Democracy (PDSR) and the Social Democratic Union (22%), and former Prime Minister's Peter Roman's center-left party (13%). In the presidential election, neither Iliescu nor Constantinescu received a majority, so a runoff was held on 17 November, in which Constantinescu took 54% of the vote, becoming Romania's first true post-communist leader. The West was thrilled with the victory, as Contantinescu was seen as significantly more pro-free market and pro-international investment than Iliescu. The new government immediately began imposing austerity measures, vowing to reduce the deficit significantly by the end of 1997. However, it was hobbled by disagreements among coalition members, and in March 1998, the prime minister, Victor Ciorbea, was replaced by Radu Vasile. The government's position was weakened even further in January 1999 when it backed down in the face of demands by striking coal miners in order to avert potential violence.
By the first half of 2000, the failure of the reformist government to bring about the promised economic recovery had led to widespread disenchantment. Inflation, unemployment, and debt remained serious problems, and Romania had also failed to achieve its major foreign policy objectives—admission to NATO and the EU. Public discontent had led to a resurgence in the popularity by Iliescu's ex-Communists, who won a decisive victory in the June local elections. At midyear it was widely expected that the November general elections would bring a change in both the government and the presidency, and it was considered possible that Iliescu himself might stage a political comeback.
Presidential and parliamentary elections were held on 26 November 2000, which were won by Iliescu's PDSR. Iliescu became president after a second round of voting was held on 10 December, defeating extreme right-wing candidate Corneliu Vadim Tudor of the xenophobic Greater Romania Party (PRM). Tudor has been compared to France's Jean-Marie Le Pen, Russia's Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Austria's Jörg Haider, and the late Pym Fortuyn of the Netherlands. Voter turnout was around 60%, 20% lower than in 1996. Iliescu won 36.4% of the vote in the first round, to Tudor's 28.3%; in the second round, Iliescu took 66.8%, and Tudor won 33.2% of the vote. The PRM made a strong showing in both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, alarming Romania's ethnic Hungarian, Gypsy, and Jewish communities. Tudor also campaigned against corruption and crime. Iliescu's PDSR pledged to put an end to economic crisis, but also to satisfy the demands of the EU, IMF, and World Bank for fiscal austerity.
In December 2001, under pressure from the EU, Romania repealed a provision of its penal code that discriminated against homosexuals. In November 2002, NATO formally invited Romania to join the organization, one of 7 Eastern European nations to join in 2004. Also in 2002, the EU announced that Romania was not ready to become a member in the next round of EU enlargement set for 2004; however, Romania and Bulgaria are expected to join in 2007.