In 1877, Romania declared independence from the Ottoman Empire and, following a Russian-Romanian-Turkish war, in which Romania fought on the Russian side, Romania’s independence was recognized by the Treaty of Berlin, 1878, making it the first independent national state in eastern Europe. In return for ceding to Russia the three southern districts of Bessarabia that had been regained by Moldavia after the Crimean War in 1852, the Kingdom of Romania acquired Dobruja. On March 26, 1881, the principality was raised to a monarchy and Prince Carol became King Carol I of Romania (1839-1914). The new state, squeezed between the great powers of the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires, looked to the West, particularly France, for its cultural, educational, military and administrative models.
Picture 1: Kingdom of Romania at the time it entered the First World War in 1916.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the Habsburg Monarchy incorporated Transylvania into what later became the Austrian Empire. During the period of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary (1867-1918), Romanians in Transylvania experienced a period of severe oppression under the Magyarization policies of the Hungarian government.
In 1916 Romania entered World War I on the Allies (Entente) of World War I side, after the Entente countries agreed to recognize Romanian rights over Transylvania, which at that time was part of Austria-Hungary. The Romanian military campaign ended in disaster as the Central Powers conquered most of the country and captured or killed most of its army within four months. Bucharest, and two-thirds of the country were occupied by the Central Powers. In May 1918, Romania was in no position to continue the war, and negotiated a peace treaty (the Treaty of Bucharest) with Germany. In October 1918, Romania joined the war again. By the end of the war, the Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires had disintegrated; governing bodies created by the Romanians of Transylvania, Bessarabia and Bukovina chose union with the Kingdom of Romania, resulting in Greater Romania.
Romania achieved at that time its greatest territorial extent, managing to unite all the historic Romanian lands (which were also inhabited by a majority of Romanians). Historically, Greater Romania—România Mare—represented one of the ideals of Romanian nationalism, and remains to many as a “paradise lost.” To exploit the nationalistic connotation of the term, a Greater Romania nationalist political party uses it as its name.
Picture 2: Romanian artillerymen in the Great War
In 1918, at the end of World War I, Transylvania and Bessarabia united with the Romanian Old Kingdom. The union of the regions of Transylvania, Maramureş, Crişana and Banat with the Old Kingdom of Romania was ratified in 1920 by the Treaty of Trianon. The union of Bucovina and Bessarabia with Romania was ratified in 1920 by the Treaty of Versailles. Romania also acquired the Southern Dobruja territory called “The Quadrilateral” from Bulgaria as a result of its participation in the Second Balkan War in 1913. The union led to the inclusion of various sizable minorities, including Magyars (ethnic Hungarians), Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, with a total of about 28 percent of the population.