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1402-1859 - Ottoman Rule

In the second half of the 14th century a new threat against the Romanian lands emerged: the Ottoman Empire. After first setting foot on European soil in 1354, the Ottoman Turks began their rapid expansion on the continent, so the green banner of the Islam already flew south of the Danube in 1396. The Turks extended their conquests into the Balkan Peninsula in the middle of the fourteenth century. In wars against the Turks and vain efforts to shake off the Turkish yoke, almost the whole activity of the two principalities was exhausted for several centuries. By their unflinching defence of their religion, the ancestors of the present Rumanians protected the culture and civilization of the Christian West from the onslaught of Islam, and thus played a rle in universal history.

Alone or in alliance with the neighboring Christian countries, more often in alliance with the neighboring voivodes of the other two Romanian principalities, the voivodes fought heavy defence battles against the Ottoman Turks, delaying their expansion to Central Europe. Several of the princes who reigned during this heroic period of Rumanian history are especially conspicuous: Mircea the Old or the Great (1386-1418) of Wallachia and Radul the Great (1496-1508) in Wallachia - and Vlad the Impeller (Dracula of the Mediaeval legends, 1456-1462), with Alexander the Good (1400-33) and Stephen the Great and Holy (1457-1504), the voivode of Moldavia and Iancu of Hunedoara, the voivode of Transylvania (1441-1456)

Mircea organized his dominions and extended his frontiers to the Black Sea by seizing Dobrudja and the town of Pilistria from the Bulgars in 1391. To repel the onsets of the Turks, he formed with King Sigismund of Hungary (afterward emperor) an offensive and defensive alliance, in accordance with which he participated in the ill-fated battle near Nicopolis in 1396.

In 1402 he had to recognize the suzerainty of Turkey, to vacate the right bank of the Danube, and to pay a yearly tribute, in return for which the Porte guaranteed the free election of the Wallachian princes and the independent internal administration of their territory. The immediate followers of Mircea were weak princes, and disputes concerning the succession postponed the casting off of the Turkish yoke. The whole Balkan Peninsula became a Turkish-ruled territory, and Constantinople was captured by Mohammed II (1453). Radul the Great, son and successor of the ex-monk Vlad I who had been appointed prince by the Turks (1481), sought by reforms in the administration and in ecclestiastical matters to mitigate the general distress and to secure greater independence from Turkey. Suleiman the Magnificent captured the city of Belgrade (1521), and the Hungarian kingdom disappeared following the battle of Mohacs (1526). Therefore, Wallachia and Moldavia were surrounded and they had to recognise for over three centuries the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire.

After Buda was captured and Hungary became a pashalik, Transylvania became a self-ruling principality (1541) and it, too, recognised the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, as the other two Romanian lands. Unlike all the other peoples of south-east Europe, unlike the Hungarians and the Poles, the Romanians were the only ones who maintained their state entity during the Middle Ages, along with their own political, military and administrative structures.

The tribute paid to the sultan was the guarantee for the preservation of domestic autonomy, but also for the protection against more powerful enemies. Wallachia and Moldavia, owing to their autonomy status, continued after the fall of the Byzantine Empire to foster their Byzantine cultural traditions, taking at the same time upon themselves to protect the Eastern Orthodox religion; on their territory, scholars from all over the Balkan Peninsula, chased away by the intolerant Islam, were able to continue their work without any obstacles; they prepared the cultural revival of their nations.

Both principalities, however, occasionally enjoyed a brief period of prosperity. The end of the 16th century was dominated by the personality of Michael the Brave. Michael the Brave of Wallachia (1593-1601) became voivode of Wallachia in 1593, joined the Christian League - an anti-Ottoman coalition initiated by the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire and he succeeded, following heavy battles (Calugareni, Giurgiu) to actually regain the independence of his country. Michael the Brave succeeded in casting off the Turkish yoke, defeating an army twenty times as numerous as his own in 1595.In 1599-1600 he united for the first time in history all the territories inhabited by Romanians, proclaiming himself "prince of Wallachia, Transylvania and the whole of Moldavia."The domestic situation was very complex, the neighboring great-powers - the Ottoman Empire, Poland, the Hapsburg Empire - were hostile and joined forces to overthrow him. Michael the Brave thus formed an united Rumanian Kingdom which, however, again collapsed on his assassination in 1601. The union achieved by the valiant voivode became, however, a symbol to the posterity.

The reign of Matthias Bassarab (1632-54) was also beneficient for Wallachia; he protected his boundaries from the attacks of the Turks on the Danube, restrained the previously inordinate influence of the Greeks, founded in 1652 the first Rumanian printing establishment, and had a code of laws compiled after Greek and Slav models.

In the 17th century, in various forms and with evanescent success, other princes attempted to restart the ambitious political program of Michael the Brave, by trying to form a united anti-Ottoman front, made-up of the three principalities and to restore the unity of ancient Dacia. The end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century brought about changes in the politics of Central and Eastern Europe. The Ottoman Empire failed to capture Vienna in 1683 and following that, the Hapsburg Empire began its expansion to the south-east of Europe.

The Austrian-Turkish peace treaty of Karlowitz (1699) sanctioned the annexation of Transylvania and its organisation as an autonomous principality to Hapsburg Austria (since 1765 great principality), ruled by a governor. Poland was divided and Russia, by successive conquests, reached under Peter the Great (1696-1725) the Dniester river, thus becoming Moldavia's eastern neighbour. The ambitious dream of the czars to dominate the Bosporus strait and Constantinople placed the Romanian Principalities in the way of Russian expansionism.

The Ottoman Empire, in an attempt to defend its old position, introduced in Moldavia (1711) and Wallachia (1716) the "Phanariot regime," (until 1821), under which the Sublime Porte appointed in the two principalities Greek voivodes recruited from the Phanar district of Istanbul and considered faithful to the Turks.

That was a time when the Ottoman political control and economic exploitation increased and corruption spread; but some social reforms were also introduced - such as the abolition of serfdom - as well as administrative and modernising reforms, modelled on the European ones in the age of the Enlightenment. The domestic autonomy, although limited, was basically preserved and the two principalities continued to be distinct entities from the Ottoman Empire; this situation was recognised in several international treaties (for instance that of Kuchuk-Kainargi, 1774). Lying at the borders of three great empires and wanted by all three of them, Wallachia and Moldavia became for over 150 years not only territories of contention but also a battlefield on which the armies of the empires fought each other.

Many wars were fought by Austria and Russia against the Ottoman Empire (1710-1711, 1716-1718, 1735-1739, 1768-1774, 1787-1792, 1806-1812, 1828-1829, 1853-1856): those battles took place on Romanian soil, always accompanied by a foreign military occupation, which was often maintained long after the war proper was over, so the Romanian lands endured not only through devastation and irrecoverable losses but also through population displacements and painful territory amputations. So, Austria temporarily annexed Oltenia (1718-1793) and Northern Moldavia that they called Bukovina (1775-1918). Following the Russian-Turkish war of 1806-1812, Russia annexed the eastern part of Moldavia, the land between the Prut and Dniester rivers, later called Bessarabia (1812-1918). In 1859 the Rumanians awoke to full national consciousness, threw off the Turkish suzerainty, and notwithstanding Russian opposition,

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Page last modified: 21-11-2011 17:29:45 ZULU