4. The Phanariote Rule

These offices very presently fell to the lot of the Phanariotes (Greek merchants and bankers inhabiting the quarter of Phanar), who had in some way or another assisted the princes to their thrones, these being now practically put up to auction in Constantinople. As a natural consequence of such a state of affairs the thoughts of the Rumanian princes turned to Russia as a possible supporter against Ottoman oppression. A formal alliance was entered into in 1711 with Tsar Peter the Great, but a joint military action against the Turks failed, the Tsar returned to Russia, and the Porte threatened to transform Moldavia, in order to secure her against incipient Russian influence, into a Turkish province with a pasha as administrator. The nobles were preparing to leave the country, and the people to retire into the mountains, as their ancestors had done in times of danger. It is not to be wondered at that, under the menace of losing their autonomy, the Rumanians 'welcomed the nomination of the dragoman of the Porte, Nicholas Mavrocordato, though he was a Greek. The people greeted with joy the accession of the first Phanariote to the throne of the principality of Moldavia'[1] (1711).

[Footnote 1: Xenopol, op. cit., ii. 138]

Knowledge of foreign languages had enabled the Phanariotes to obtain important diplomatic positions at Constantinople, and they ended by acquiring the thrones of the Rumanian principalities as a recompense for their services. But they had to pay for it, and to make matters more profitable the Turks devised the ingenious method of transferring the princes from one province to another, each transference being considered as a new nomination. From 1730 to 1741 the two reigning princes interchanged thrones in this way three times. They acquired the throne by gold, and they could only keep it by gold. All depended upon how much they wore able to squeeze out of the country. The princes soon became past masters in the art of spoliation. They put taxes upon chimneys, and the starving peasants pulled their cottages down and went to live in mountain caves; they taxed the animals, and the peasants preferred to kill the few beasts they possessed. But this often proved no remedy, for we are told that the Prince Constantin Mavrocordato, having prescribed a tax on domestic animals at a time when an epidemic had broken out amongst them, ordered the tax to be levied on the carcasses. 'The Administrative regime during the Phanariote period was, in general, little else than organized brigandage,' says Xenopol[1]. In fact the Phanariote rule was instinct with corruption, luxury, and intrigue. Though individually some of them may not deserve blame, yet considering what the Phanariotes took out of the country, what they introduced into it, and to what extent they prevented its development, their era was the most calamitous in Rumanian history.

[Footnote 1: Ibid, op. cit., ii. 308]

The war of 1768 between Russia and Turkey gave the former power a vague protectorate over the Rumanian provinces (Treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji). In 1774 Austria acquired from the Turks, by false promises, the northern part of Moldavia, the pleasant land of Bucovina. During the new conflict between Turkey and Russia, the Russian armies occupied and battened upon the Rumanian provinces for six years. Though they had again to abandon their intention of making the Danube the southern boundary of their empire - to which Napoleon had agreed by the secret treaty with Tsar Alexander (Erfurt, September 27, 1808) - they obtained from Turkey the cession of Bessarabia (Treaty of Bucarest, May 28, 1812), together with that part of Moldavia lying between the Dnjester and the Pruth, the Russians afterwards giving to the whole region the name of Bessarabia.