The landlocked Eastern European nation of Moldova, positioned just south of Ukraine and just above Romania, has a long and varied history from 800,000 years ago to the present.
Archaelogical finds have indicated that humans were present at least 800,000 years ago in the area that is now Moldova. The oldest artifacts to date were found near the town of Dubasari, on the Dniester river: three paleolithic stone tools made from sandstone, and four flint pieces. 1
Other cultures lived in the area at later dates, including the Linear Pottery culture (ranging from Poland to the Carpathians), the Cucuteni–Trypillia culture (centered on Moldova but ranging from western Ukraine to northern Romania) and the Yamnaya culture (a culture between the Dniester and the Ural rivers).
Throughout recorded antiquity, Moldova was inhabited by many tribes. The most notable of these were the Akatziri, the Sarmatians, the Scythians, and the Bastarnae - coming from Turkish, Germanic, Iranian, and Celtic origins.
The Bastarnae were a Celtic/Germanic tribe, speaking proto-Celtic. They emigrated from the Vistula River valley (now southern Poland).
The Roman Empire, at its peak, conquered what they called Dacia, a wide range of lands spreading between the Danube, the Carpathians, and Ukraine. The Roman province of Budjak made up the Black Sea area of Ukraine and southern Moldova. 2
The Bastarnae tribe was essentially assimilated by the Sarmatians, an early nomadic tribe with origins in the Caucasus that spoke a form of Iranian. The Sarmatians started migrating west during the 3rd and 4th centuries, first into the area that is now the Crimean Peninsula and finally into the Dniester basin.
The Scythians were a Eurasian nomadic tribe, wandering around the Eurasian steppe. Scholars estimate that by 300-400 AD, the Scythians had merged with and assimilated most of the earlier tribes in the area, including the Sarmatians.
Another tribe in the area, the Akatzirs, were conquered by Attila the Hun, who swept through Eastern Europe with his army on their way to sack Rome in 452. After Attila's death in 453, the Huns were broken and ceased to be a major influence in the ancient world. Rome's influence on the region increased. 3
During the Early Middle Ages, the area that is now Moldova was populated by the Early Slavs, a proto-Slavic people that had absorbed the incoming nomads from the steppes. Although Rome was declining in power, the region was still under Roman rule until the 6th century. 4
In the 8th century, with the rise of the Byzantine Empire, the lower half of Moldova was under the rule of the First Bulgarian Empire. The upper half was allied with the Empire. Along with this shift in power dynamics, the Slavs began to convert to Christianity. Writing was first introduced in the form of Old Church Slavonic, which remained the dominant form of literature in Moldova until the 1800s.
During the 12th century, Moldova was ruled by the Principality of Halychian Rus, which was centered around Halych, a large city in southwestern Ukraine. Sandwiched in between the Kievan Rus and the Kingdom of Poland, the governance of Halych reached an apex at the year 1144 and was closely allied with the Byzantine Empire to the south. After a long decline, Halych was finally captured in 1241 by the Mongol army.
The Second Bulgarian Empire, which lasted from 1185 to 1396, ruled over the lands of Moldova throughout the 13th century. Under the rule of Boril in 1218, Bulgarian territory reached almost as far as Odessa, covering most of the territory in between the Prut and the Dniester rivers.
In the 13th and 14th centuries, large numbers of Jewish migrants from Central Europe settled in the region of Ukraine, Poland, and Moldova. Over the next five hundred years, the Jewish population would ebb and flow but remain a major portion of the population. 5
The Principality of Moldavia, which covered areas of modern Moldova, Ukraine, and Romania, was established in 1359. Bogdan I, a vassal in Hungarian-controlled Maramures, rebelled and fled Hungarian lands. He marched his army across the mountains and settled on the banks of the Moldova River, taking control of the region and establishing the Principality of Moldavia.
Stephen the Great, also known as Stephen III of Moldavia, was the voivode (prince) of Moldavia from 1457 to 1504. Hailed as one of the greatest leaders of Moldova, as a young man his family was deposed from the throne. He returned to Moldavia with the help of Vlad III Dracula, and seized control of the throne in 1457. During his reign, Moldavia was at perhaps it's highest prominence, though wars with Hungary, Wallachia, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire were a constant source of troubles. Stephen the Great died in 1504.
In 1538, Moldavia had seen a series of weak voivodes lessen it's authority in the region, and finally the principality became a vassal of the Ottoman Empire in 1538. For the next two hundred years, the country would remain under Ottoman rule. Figures such as Vasile Lupu would, through careful negotiations and bribes, ensure that the Ottomans left Moldavia more or less alone.
After the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774), the Ottoman Empire finally admitted defeat to the Russian Empire. Christian Moldavia became a protectorate of the Russian Empire.
The second Russo-Turkish War (1806–1812) also ended in defeat for the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans signed the Treaty of Bucharest in 1812 which ceded full ownership of Christian Moldavia to the Russians, as well as trading rights on the Danube and the territory of Georgia to the east.
For the next 106 years, Moldavia was called Bessarabia. This region was organized as a Russian imperial oblast, ruled by the Moldavian boyar Scarlat Sturdza.
After decades of poverty, reforms in Tsarist Russia began to reach Bessarabia. The institution of zemstva in 1870 gave greater local control to the Bessarabian region, with local councils elected to serve over matters of economy, education, and trade.
With immigration encouraged by the Russian Empire, by the census in 1897 over 53% of Bessarabia was comprised of Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Gagauz, and Jews. Over 46% of the population of Kishinev alone was Jewish.
After the Russian Revolution in October 1917, considerable unrest began shaking up the status quo. A council called Sfatul Țării was formed of local leaders. This council established the Moldavian Democratic Republic on December 15th. On January 26th, 1918, Romanian troops entered Moldavia. The council declared independence on February 6th. Under pressure from the Romanian Army, the council approved a condition alliance with Romania under the conditions of territorial autonomy.
However, a state of siege was declared in Moldavia and censorship was instated, and the members of the government were chosen by the Romanian royalty rather than through election as before. The Sfatul Țării council decided to withdraw their conditional alliance, but were unable to reach a quorum.
Shortly after the development of commercial flight, the first flight routes were established on June 24th, 1926, between Iași and Chișinău by the French-Romanian airline Compagnie Franco-Roumaine de Navigation Aérienne, which became Air France in 1933.
With the second world war looming on the horizon, Romania's alliance with Germany resulted in severe changes for the region. In the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Nazi Germany had declared no interest in the territory of Moldavia. On June 26th, 1940, the Soviet government sent an ultimatum demanding the return of Bessarabia and Bukovina.
The other Axis powers, Italy and Germany, needed unfettered access to Romanian resources and pressured King Carol II to grant territorial authority back to the Soviets. On June 28th, Soviet troops crossed the Dniester and reclaimed the territory. The Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic was established on August 2nd, 1940. The Soviets transferred ownership of Moldova's exposure to the Black Sea to Ukraine, to create an additional buffer against future annexation attempts.
The next year, the Axis powers invaded the Soviet Union. As allies with Germany, Romania invaded the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic. Over the next three years, 147,000 Jews were deported from the region by German and Romanian forces. Over 90,000 of these Jews died in concentration camps.
By August 1944, after a long battle along with Eastern Front, the Soviet Army had regained complete control of the region. A severe drought in 1946, paired with the agricultural quotas imposed by the Soviet Union, resulted in a severe famine causing the deaths of many peasants throughout Moldova and Ukraine.
In the next few decades, investment from the Soviet Union would bring industry and education into the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The cultural and governmental positions were occupied mostly by Moldovans, while the engineers and scientists were largely Russians who were emigrated to the area.
In the 70s and 80s large amounts of investment flowed into Moldova. Largely because Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union, served as the secretary of the Moldovan Communist Party, over 1 billion rubles were invested into Chisinau, developing the infrastructure and building housing blocks.
With the Soviet Union weakening, the nationalist Popular Front was formed in Moldova, adopting the Romanian language and using the Latin alphabet.
Two regions inhabited mostly by ethnic minorities, Gagauzia and Transnistria, declare their independence from Moldova. The government sends 30,000 volunteers into the regions, but a war is averted by the Russian 14th Army. Peace negotiations between the parties break down in Moscow. A brief confrontation between Moldovan forces and the inhabitants of Dubăsari, blockading the bridge over the Dniester, leaves three locals dead.
On August 27th, 1991, Moldova declares independence from the Soviet Union. On December 13th, another attempt to cross the Dniester, this time a clash between Moldovan and Transnistrian troops, leaves four dead.
The Transnistrian conflict escalates between the Moldovan Army and the Transnistrian troops. What was at first a purely urban guerilla war rapidly increased, including bridge bombing runs by Moldovan MiG-29s, several T-64 tanks, rocket fire, and small arms clashes throughout Bender. Volunteers from Russian, including Cossacks, came to fight alongside Transnistrian civilians. Casualties to noncombatants were caused by both sides.
A ceasefire was signed on July 21st, by Boris Yeltsin and Mircea Snegur. A peacekeeping force of five Russian units, three Moldovan units, and two Transnistrian units was established.
Tragically, casualties from the war reached nearly 700 deaths and almost two thousand wounded.
Following a parliamentary election in which the Communist Party won a majority of seats, civilian unrest increased and around 15,000 protestors gathered in front of Parliament on April 6th. Over the next two days, the protest developed into a riot, burning the parliament building. Three students were killed by police during the riots. New elections were held.
Over 100,000 people protest in Chisinau when it is revealed over $1 billion of pension and private funds was stolen from Moldovan banking system. The protests led to ongoing discussions over severe corruption and control of Moldova by corrupt oligarchs.
The History of Moldova has been exhaustively compiled through extensive academic research. We would like to thank the following scholarly works for their contribution to this history.