3. The Foundation and Development of the Rumanian Principalities

The first attempt to organize itself into a political entity was made by the Rumanian nation in the thirteenth century, when, under the impulse of the disaffected nobles coming from Hungary, the two principalities of 'Muntenia' (Mountain Land), commonly known as Wallachia and 'Moldavia', came into being. The existence of Rumanians on both sides of the Carpathians long before Wallachia was founded is corroborated by contemporary chroniclers. We find evidence of it in as distant a source as the History of the Mongols, of the Persian chronicler, Rashid Al-Din, who, describing the invasion of the Tartars, says: 'In the middle of spring (1240) the princes (Mongols or Tartars) crossed the mountains in order to enter the country of the Bulares (Bulgarians) and of the Bashguirds (Hungarians). Orda, who was marching to the right, passed through the country of the Haute (Olt), where Bazarambam met him with an army, but was beaten. Boudgek crossed the mountains to enter the Kara-Ulak, and defeated the Ulak (Vlakh) people.'[1] Kara-Ulak means Black Wallachia; Bazarambam is certainly the corrupted name of the Ban Bassarab, who ruled as vassal of Hungary over the province of Oltenia, and whose dynasty founded the principality of Muntenia. The early history of this principality was marked by efforts to free it from Hungarian domination, a natural development of the desire for emancipation which impelled the Rumanians to migrate from the subdued provinces in Hungary.

[Footnote 1: Xenopol, Histoire des Roumains, Paris, 1896, i, 168.]

The foundation of Moldavia dates from after the retreat of the Tartars, who had occupied the country for a century (1241-1345). They were driven out by an expedition under Hungarian leadership, with the aid of Rumanians from the province of Maramuresh. It was the latter who then founded the principality of Moldavia under the suzerainty of Hungary, the chroniclers mentioning as its first ruler the Voivod Dragosh.[1]

[Footnote 1: The legend as to the foundation of Moldavia tells us that Dragosh, when hunting one day in the mountains, was pursuing a bison through the dense forest. Towards sunset, just when a successful shot from his bow had struck and killed the animal, he emerged at a point from which the whole panorama of Moldavia was unfolded before his astonished eyes. Deeply moved by the beauty of this fair country, he resolved to found a state there. It is in commemoration of this event that Moldavia bears the head of a wild bison on her banner.]

The rudimentary political formations which already existed before the foundation of the principalities were swept away by the invasion of the Tartars, who destroyed all trace of constituted authority in the plains below the Carpathians. In consequence the immigrants from Transylvania did not encounter any resistance, and were even able to impose obedience upon the native population, though coming rather as refugees than as conquerors. These new-comers were mostly nobles (boyards). Their emigration deprived the masses of the Rumanian population of Transylvania of all moral and political support - especially as a part of the nobility had already been won over by their Hungarian masters - and with time the masses fell into servitude. On the other hand the immigrating nobles strengthened and secured the predominance of their class in the states which were to be founded. In both cases the situation of the peasantry became worse, and we have, curiously enough, the same social fact brought about by apparently contrary causes.

Though the Rumanians seem to have contributed but little, up to the nineteenth century, to the advance of civilization, their part in European history is nevertheless a glorious one, and if less apparent, perhaps of more fundamental importance. By shedding their blood in the struggle against the Ottoman invasion, they, together with the other peoples of Oriental Europe, procured that security which alone made possible the development of western civilization. Their merit, like that of all with whom they fought, 'is not to have vanquished time and again the followers of Mohammed, who always ended by gaining the upper hand, but rather to have resisted with unparalleled energy, perseverance, and bravery the terrible Ottoman invaders, making them pay for each step advanced such a heavy price, that their resources were drained, they were unable to carry on the fight, and thus their power came to an end'.[1]

[Footnote 1: Xenopol, op. cit., i. 266.]

From the phalanx of Christian warriors stand out the names of a few who were the bravest of a time when bravery was common; but while it is at least due that more tribute than a mere mention of their names should be paid to the patriot princes who fought in life-long conflict against Turkish domination, space does not permit me to give more than the briefest summary of the wars which for centuries troubled the country.

It was in 1389, when Mircea the Old was Prince of Wallachia, that the united Balkan nations attempted for the first time to check Ottoman invasion. The battle of Kosovo, however, was lost, and Mircea had to consent to pay tribute to the Turks. For a short space after the battle of Rovine (1398), where Mircea defeated an invading Turkish army, the country had peace, until Turkish victories under the Sultan Mohammed resulted, in 1411, in further submissions to tribute.

It is worthy of mention that it was on the basis of tribute that the relations between Turkey and Rumania rested until 1877, the Rumanian provinces becoming at no time what Hungary was for a century and a half, namely, a Turkish province.