POPULATION: 23 million, of whom 89 percent are ethnic Romanians
RELIGION: Christianity (Romanian Orthodox Church; Greek Catholic Church; Protestantism)
The territory that comprises Romania today was inhabited by the Dacians and Getae as early as the sixth century BC . These ancestors of the Romanians organized a separate country known as Dacia, which developed and prospered to the time of King Decebalus (AD 87–106). The Romans conquered Dacia in AD 106. The victory over the Dacians was considered so important in Roman history that a monument was erected in the Forum at Rome to commemorate the event.
From 106 to 271, Dacia was a Roman province. As a border province, however, Dacia became increasingly difficult to defend against invasions from the east. The Romans retreated from Dacia in 271, ceding the country to the invading Goths. After the Goths left in 375, and the Huns left in the sixth century, there was a slow but steady infiltration of Slavs among the Romanians.
In 1601, Michael the Brave was able to unite briefly all the Romanians under one rule. Though short-lived, this unification contributed to the strengthening of Romanian identity.
The Ottoman Empire imposed its rule over the Romanian principalities for nearly 300 years. With the help of Russia, which defeated the Turks, the Romanians were given more freedom and granted a new constitution in 1829. In 1881, Romania became a monarchy, and King Carol I ruled until his death in 1914.
Romania fought on the side of the Allies during World War I (1914–18). With the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the provinces of Transylvania, Banat, and Bucovina were awarded to Romania in 1918, thus uniting most of the Romanians in one country for the first time in its history.
At the start of World War II (1939–45), Romania was allied with Nazi Germany, but it switched sides in August 1944 and joined the Allies as Russians entered the country. With the forced abdication of King Michael V (b.1921), Romanian communists gradually took control of the country. In 1965, Romania officially became a communist nation and Nicolae Ceauşescu (1918–89) became its president. Under his harsh dictatorship, the country had serious economic problems, including food shortages and lack of consumer goods.
During the years of communism, the living standard of the average citizen worsened and the economy was poorly managed. Many people were imprisoned and many others fled the country. Over 500,000 Romanians emigrated to Western Europe, the United States, Israel, and elsewhere.
In December 1989, security forces opened fire on demonstrators in the city of Timişoara. A state of emergency was declared, but the protests continued to spread throughout the country. Ceauşescu was overthrown and he was found guilty of genocide and executed.
After the execution of Ceauşescu and the ousting of many Communist Party officials, a ragtag government made up mostly of former communists took over, headed by Ion Iliescu. Inflation rose, living standards suffered, and corruption continued. Iliescu was was finally voted out in November 1996, with Emil Constantinescu as the first non-communist president in over fifty years.
Romania is located in Eastern Europe at the mouth of the Danube River as it flows into the Black Sea, which forms the country's eastern border. Romania is bordered on the north by Ukraine and Moldova, on the south by Bulgaria and Yugoslavia (Serbia), and on the west by Hungary. It is slightly less than 92,000 square miles (238,000 square kilometers) in area, about the size of New York State and Pennsylvania combined. The Carpathian Mountains run from north to south through the middle of the country. Romania has hot summers, cool autumns, and cold winters with snow and winds.
Romania has a population of about 23 million people, with ethnic Romanians accounting for 89 percent of the population. The remaining population includes Hungarians (7.5 percent), Germans (0.5 percent), Roma (also known as Gypsies), and various other minorities.
The Romanian language is a modern Romance language, just like Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. It is closest in structure to the Latin spoken in the first centuries AD by ordinary Romans.
One of the greatest repositories of Romanian folklore is their traditional Christmas carols, which have been passed down through many generations.
The ancient Dacians gradually accepted Christianity and established churches under the Eastern Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. Even though there was a Slavic influence, the Romanian Orthodox Church retained its Latin heritage and remains the predominant religion of Romanians. There are smaller numbers of Greek Catholics (Uniates), Roman Catholics, and Protestants.
Romanians celebrate the major Christian holy days; Christmas (December 25) has more customs and observances than any other holy day. Easter (March or April) is most joyous religious holiday, following a six-week Lenten preparatory season and solemn Holy Week rituals.
Romanians ring in the New Year with partying, singing, and drinking. Some New Year's Day customs have prevailed throughout the centuries, dating from pagan Roman times, such as the pluguşotul (plow). Boys dressed in sheepskin outfits pull a small plow through the village, wishing everyone a prosperous new year.
When an infant is baptized, there is always a celebration at the home of the child's parents. At baptism, children are given the name of a saint, usually one whose feast day is nearest to the date of birth.
When young people decide to marry, they ask for the blessing of their parents. The girl usually has a dowry that her parents start when she is very young. It may consist of household linens, rugs, tablecloths, personal items, kitchen utensils, and family heirlooms.
After the marriage date is set, the groom sends out emissaries to personally invite friends and relatives to the wedding. Male members of the wedding party usually come to church on horseback, while the bride is brought in a carriage bedecked with flowers and peasant embroideries. After the nearly one-hour church ceremony, the bride and groom drink wine from the a common cup, signifying their union.
When someone dies, the body is washed and deodorized but not embalmed. It is then laid in a wooden coffin and brought to the deceased's home for the wake. Prayer services are held before the open coffin two or three evenings before the funeral service. After the funeral ceremony at the church, the closed coffin is taken to the cemetery and is interred. Mourners return to the deceased's home for a meal.
Romanians are influenced by the Romanian Orthodox Church, which emphasizes humility, love, and forgiveness in one's relationships. Romanians typically offer warm greetings and a willingness to serve others.
The typical one-story Romanian house usually includes a waiting room with an oven and a pantry. Some homes have a living room with a fireplace and at least one bedroom. More-prosperous rural Romanians may have a large enclosed yard with a garden, hay barn, stable, pigsty, chicken coop, corncrib, and outhouse.
Romania has undergone many changes in the last fifty years. There was a large migration from villages to cities. During the years of the communist regime, some villages disappeared as inhabitants moved to the cities, where plain high-rise apartments were built to accommodate them. Such buildings line the outskirts of most of Romania's major cities.
Life expectancy is sixty-seven years for males and seventy-three years for females. Infant mortality is 25 deaths per 1,000 births. There is 1 hospital bed per 100 persons, and 1 doctor per 559 persons. There is a scarcity of hospitals, clinics, and other facilities. Some children are abandoned and end up in orphanages, which have a difficult time caring for them.
Traditionally, Romanians had large families. Children are brought up to respect their parents. Divorce is not common but occurs more frequently in the cities than in the villages.
Among the most visible and attractive articles of clothing are the Romanian traditional costumes, especially the blouse, which varies greatly from one district to another. The traditional Romanian male costumes were just as varied as the women's, but less elaborate. The trousers and the long shirt were mostly white. The men wore a leather belt or a wider one with pockets.
Today, Romanians wear the same Western-style clothing that is commonly worn throughout Europe.
Romanian cooking has Hungarian, Serbian, Turkish, and Russian influences. There are also traces of French, Viennese, and other Western European cuisines.
Mamaliga (cornmeal mush) is one of the staples of the Romanian diet. It is usually served as a side dish and sometimes in place of bread.
Pork is the favorite meat of the Romanians, much more so than beef. Pigs are usually slaughtered before Christmas, smoked, made into sausage, and preserved for use throughout the year. Pork products such as bacon, ham, spare ribs, chops, and various cold cuts are also favorites of the Romanians. Stews, roasts, and casseroles with vegetable, salads, sour pickles, and sauerkraut make up the usual main course.
At present the literacy rate is nearly 98 percent, with compulsory education for ten years.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, literary magazines and books started to be published in growing numbers. Many poets, novelists, historians, essayists, and writers flooded the market with their literary works. These included well-known poet Vasile Alexandri (1821–90), novelists such as Costache Negruzzi (1808–68) and Alexandru Odobescu, storytellers such as Ion Slavici and Liviu Rebreanu (1885–1944), dramatists such as L. Caragiale (1853–1912) and Barba Delavraucea, and and historians such as Alexandra D. Xenopol and Nicolae Iorga (1871–1940).
The traditional Romanian musical instrument is the violin. Others include the wooden saxophone and the cimbalom (a type of dulcimer). Later, orchestras added the bass fiddle, the piano, the clarinet, and the accordion. Romanians also play pan-pipes.
Among the most popular styles of folk songs are love songs and patriotic songs. There is no other form of popular poetry more prevalent than the traditional carols, which have been passed down from one generation to the next
One of the most common and generalized folk dances is the hora (circle dance), danced by men and women holding hands. A popular dance is the sârba, with dancers holding each other by the shoulder in a semicircle.
Villagers with their small plots raise enough food for their own needs. Urban dwellers, who must buy all their food, have a more difficult time because of scarcities, inflation, and low salaries.
As in many European countries, the preferred sport is soccer. Romania has a number of professional teams, which compete with other countries. Each larger town has its own stadium, and some of them accommodate tens of thousands of spectators. Besides soccer, Romanians also enjoy basketball, boxing, rugby, tennis, and volleyball.
Calisthenics, exercising, and other gymnastics are a part of the school curriculum. Some of the best students are specially trained to compete in international events such as the Olympics.
Romanians enjoy a leisurely walk on the weekend where one stops to chat with friends and acquaintances.
Romanians also enjoy folk dance groups, amateur theatrical groups, music ensembles, and a host of other entertainers. There are many movie houses that show local productions and imported films with Romanian subtitles. Solo entertainers and all kinds of groups tour the country and present all kinds of entertainment to enthusiastic audiences.
Romania has many radio stations, television stations, live theaters, opera houses, cabarets, and entertainment establishments. Western influence, especially American, is increasingly noticeable in Romanian music, dance, and film.
Traditional handmade crafts were not only useful but also decorative, with colorful and intricate designs. Women traditionally sewed, knitted, and crocheted, while men carved geometric designs or painted wooden articles and ceramics.
Besides the textiles and wooden articles, Romanian peasants also wove rugs with unusual designs and colorful schemes. Pottery was usually decorated with circles, spirals, stylized flowers, and other imaginative patterns.
A most unusual form of Romanian folk art are icons painted on glass. The image is painted backwards on a piece of glass, so it can be seen correctly when viewed from the front side.
Alcoholism is sometimes a problem, especially among men. Crime and vandalism are becoming serious problems, especially in the cities.
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Basderant, Denise. Against Tide and Tempest: The Story of Romania. New York: R. Speller, 1966.
Carran, Betty. Romania . Chicago: Children's Press, 1988.
Matley, Ian M. Romania: A Profile. New York: Praeger, 1970.