Ancient Romania was inhabited by Thracian tribes. In the first century BC, Greece established the state of Dacia there to counter the threat from Rome. Dacia fell to Rome in 106 AD, becoming a province of the Roman Empire. Faced with Goth attacks in 271 AD, Emperor Aurelian decided to withdraw the Roman legions south of the Danube, but the Romanised Vlach peasants remained in Dacia, forming a Romanian people. By the 10th century, small Romanian states emerged, and their consolidation led to the formation of the principalities of Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania. From the 10th century the Magyars spread into Transylvania and by the 13th century it was an autonomous principality under the Hungarian crown. In the 14th century Hungarian forces tried unsuccessfully to capture Wallachia and Moldavia.
Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries Wallachia and Moldavia offered strong resistance to Ottoman Empire expansion. During this struggle the prince of Wallachia, Vlad Tepes (known as the Impaler, because he rarely ate a meal without a Turk writhing on a stake in front of him), became a hero; he later became associated with Dracula. Transylvania fell to Ottoman control in the 16th century, and after this Wallachia and Moldavia paid tribute to the Turks but retained their autonomy. In 1600 the three Romanian states were briefly united under Mihai Viteazul, prince of Wallachia, after he joined forces with the ruling princes of Moldavia and Transylvania against the Turks. Unity lasted only one year, after which he was defeated by a joint Habsburg-Transylvanian force, and then captured and beheaded. Transylvania came under Habsburg rule, while Turkish suzerainty continued in Wallachia and Moldavia until well into the 19th century. In 1775 the northern part of Moldavia, Bucovina, was annexed by Austria-Hungary. This was followed in 1812 by the loss of its eastern territory, Bessarabia, to Russia. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29, Ottoman domination over the principalities finally came to an end.
After 1848 Transylvania fell under the direct rule of Austria-Hungary from Budapest, and ruthless Magyarisation followed. In 1859 Alexandru Ioan Cuza was elected to the thrones of Moldavia and Wallachia, creating a national state, which was named Romania in 1862. Carol I succeeded him in 1866, and in 1877 Dobruja became part of Romania. Romania was declared a kingdom in 1881, with Carol I as king. He died at the start of WWI and was succeeded by his nephew Ferdinand I who, in 1916, entered the war on the side of the Triple Entente. His objective was to liberate Transylvania from Austria-Hungary. In 1918, Bessarabia, Bucovina and Transylvania became part of Romania.
After WWI, numerous political parties emerged in Romania, including the Legion of the Archangel Michael, better known as the fascist Iron Guard. Led by Corneliu Codreanu, this party dominated the political scene by 1935. Carol II, who had succeeded his father Ferdinand I to the throne, declared a royal dictatorship in 1938, and all political parties were dissolved. In 1939 he clamped down on the Iron Guard (which he had previously actively supported) and had Codreanu and other legionaries assassinated. In 1940 the USSR occupied Bessarabia, and Romania was forced to cede northern Transylvania to Hungary by order of Germany and Italy. Southern Dobruja was also given to Bulgaria. These setbacks sparked off widespread demonstrations, and the king called in General Marshall Ion Antonescu to help quash the rising mass hysteria. Antonescu forced Carol to abdicate in favour of his 19-year-old son Michael, and then imposed a fascist dictatorship with himself as
The Soviet-engineered return of Transylvania to Romania helped the Moscow-backed communists win the 1946 elections. A year later King Michael was forced to abdicate, and a Romanian People's Republic was proclaimed. A period of state terror then ensued, in which all pre-war leaders, prominent intellectuals and suspected dissidents were rounded up and imprisoned in hard-labour camps. In the late 1950s Romania began to distance itself from Moscow, pursuing an independent foreign policy under Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej (1952-65) and Nicolae Ceausescu (1965-89). Ceausescu condemned Soviet 'intervention' in Czechoslovakia in 1968, earning him praise and economic aid from the West. If his foreign policy was skilful, his domestic policy was inept and megalomaniacal. Most of his grandiose projects (the construction of the Danube-Black Sea 'Death' Canal and the behemoth House of the People in Bucharest, and systemisation) were expensive failures. His Securitate (secret police) kept the populace in check, recruiting a vast network of informers.
The advent of Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s meant that the USA no longer needed Romania, and withdrew its 'most favoured nation' status. Ceausescu decided to export Romania's food to pay off the country's mounting debt. While Ceausescu and his wife, Elena (his first deputy prime minister), lived in luxury, his people struggled to feed themselves, as bread, eggs, flour, oil, salt, sugar, beef and potatoes were rationed; by the mid-1980s meat was unobtainable. In 1987 protest riots in Brasov were crushed. On 15 December 1989, as one communist regime after another collapsed in Eastern Europe, Father Laszlo Tokes spoke out against Ceausescu from his Timisoara church. That evening a crowd gathered outside his home to protest at the decision of the Reformed Church of Romania to remove him from his post. Clashes between the protesters and the Securitate and army troops continued for the next four days. On 19 December the army joined the protesters. On 21 December Bucharest workers booed Ceausescu during a mass rally and street battles between army troops and Securitate and the people began in the capital. The following day the Ceausescus tried to flee Romania, but were arrested. They were tried by an anonymous court, and executed by firing squad on Christmas Day.
It is now believed that members of the National Salvation Front, which took over government of Romania after Ceausescu's death, had been plotting his overthrow for months before the December 1989 demonstrations forced them to act earlier. Initially a caretaker government, it was elected to power in 1990, led by Ion Iliescu. Student protests against its ex-communist leadership were crushed when 20,000 coal miners from the Jiu Valley were brought in to stage a counter riot. The miners were drafted to Bucharest again a year later to force the resignation of reform-minded prime minister Petre Roman.
Iliescu and the National Salvation Front were reelected in 1992, but rampant inflation, unemployment, and allegations of government corruption, meant that in 1996 Iliescu was voted out in favour of Emil Constantinescu, leader of the reform-minded Democratic Convention of Romania. A dramatic about-face in December 2000 saw voters reinstate Iliescu as their president. Romanians probably considered Iliescu the lesser of two evils - his opponent was extremist Corneliu Vadim Tudor of the far-right Greater Romania Party.