The historic principality of Moldavia lasted from the 14th to 19th century. Only the region west of the Prut is within Romania, the eastern part was annexed by Russia in 1812 and is now the Republic of Moldova.
The ethnographic zones in the west are in the sub-Carpathians have clear boundaries and distinct ethnographic features.
The zones of the north west were part of the Hapsburg province of Bukowina and are still commonly referred to as Bucovina.
Most of the territory is plateaux lands and hills separated by the major rivers. The ethnography is more uniform, but still with some interesting micro-zones. The south is part of the Bărăgan plain.
In the centuries before Moldavia was founded the northern regions were probably populated by a mixture of Vlachs and Slavs, the Slavs having migrated south from the Ukraine. Most of the regions east of the Carpathians were at this time under the rule of the Cumans, some areas of which Hungary claimed supremacy over. This lasted until the Mongol attacks of the mid 13th century, after which there are indications of areas of Slavic rule and
The place names in northern Moldavia give an indication of the extent of the early Slavic population by the -ăuţi ending to Romanian place names, most of which have the -ovcy ending in their Ukrainian name. Interestingly, villages with the Romanian ending -eşti have a distribution through Moldavia up to the line of Slavic place names.
There are occasional references that might indicate the presence of Slavs and Romanians before the founding of Moldavia. In 1247 a Franciscan monk, Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, met a Romanian voivode called Olaha who is thought to have been in Moldavia. Histories of Romania sometimes refer to a Vlach region of Ţara Sepeniţului in Pocuţia in the early 14th century.
The Hungarian King, Charles Robert of Anjou, attempted to expand the influence of the Roman Catholic church and the Hungarian Empire east of the Carpathians after the fall of Cuman rule. There was an early military campaign under the command of Phynta de Mende in 1324. Three decades later in 1353 Dragoş, a Romanian Knez from Maramureş, was sent by the Hungarian King to found a new Moldavian voivode with the capital at Baia. Dragoş succeeded and extended the region northwards to Radăuţi.
A few years later in 1359 Bogdan of Cuhea, a Maramureş voivode who had fallen out with the Hungarian king, crossed the Carpathians, took control of the Romanian regions in Moldavia and succeeded in separating Moldavia from Hungarian control. Bogdan ruled the area from the Ceremuş river in the north down to the Black Sea in the south and east to the Dniestr river. These borders of Moldavia lasted for over six hundred years, until the 20th century. Bogdan's first capital was at Radăuţi which he later moved to Suceava. His home village of Cuhea in Maramureş is now know as "Bogdan Voda".
Petru I founded the fortresses at Neamţ and Suceava and in 1388 extended his rule to include the region of Pocuţia, now in the Ukraine. Pocuţia exchanged hands many times until the 16th century.
Stefan I successfully defended Moldavia against the Hungarians during an attempt to invade Moldavia in 1394 following Stefan I accepting suzerainty to the Polish King.
Alexandru cel Bun negotiated a peace treaty with Poland in 1411 and in 1420 defended Moldavia against the first attack by the Turks at Cetatea Alba. Around this time Hussite refugees from Poland and Hungary move to Moldavia to escape religous persecution.
The most famous of the Moldavian voivodes is Ştefan cel Mare (1457-1504). He was successful in 34 out of 36 battles against the Turks, and built a new church for each success, thus creating the famous painted monasteries of northern Moldavia. The town of Hotin was returned to Moldavia in 1464 following a number of years in the Polish Empire. The last Hungarian campaign to re-establish suzerainty in Moldavia was in 1467 led by the Hungarian king Mathias Corvinus. He advanced along the Siret valley taking Bacău, Roman, and Târgu Neamţ, but was defeated at Baia by Ştefan cel Mare. However, by 1473 the Moldavian and Transylvanian merchants had commercial freedom in each others countries and in 1475 Mathias Corvinus and Ştefan cel Mare pledged support to each other against their enemies.
In 1460 Hussites of Hungary escape from King Mátyás to Moldavia and found the town Husi, and Csöbörcsök on the bank of river Dniester.
The Turks seized Cetatea Albă in 1485 and in 1489 Ştefan cel Mare agreed to pay a tribute to the Ottoman Empire in return for autonomy. This southern part of Moldavia was originally known as Besarabia after the Wallachian Besarab voivodes who previously ruled the region. This term was later used for the eastern part of Moldavia acquired by the Russians after WW1. The whole of southern part of Moldavia became known as Bugeac under Turkish rule.
In 1538 the Turks joined by the Tartars invaded Moldavia. Petru Rareş (1527-1538), son of Ştefan cel Mare, defeated the Tartars, but he was betrayed by his boyars and had to flee to Transylvania, and Moldavia was annexed by the Ottoman Empire. The capital was moved to Iaşi in 1565.
Through the periods of Tartar attacks, battles with the Ottomans, domination by the Ottoman Empire, and internal squabbling between the boyars and voivodes much of Moldavia was left poor and many villages became depopulated. The most severe period of Turkish exploitation was between 1711 and 1824 when Phanariot rulers were imposed by the Turks. The Phanariots were Greeks from the Phanar quarter in Constantinople.
Following the end of Turkish rule, politics led to the regions of northern Bucovina, Besarabia, and Bugeac changing hands a number of times and ending up outside the boundaries of modern Romania.
A short summary:
- The Hapsburgs ruled northern Moldavia from Cernăuţi from 1775 to 1918 which led to the current name of Bucovina for the region.
- The Russo-Turkish peace treaty of 1812 incorporated the area between the Prut and Dniester, now termed Bessarabia, into the Czarist Empire for the first time.
- At the Congress of Paris in 1856 the the southern districts of Besarabia (often collectively referred to as Bugeac) were united with Romania.
- At the Congress of Berlin in 1878 Besarabia was incorporated into the Czarist Empire in return for Romania retaining Dobrogea.
- In 1940 the Soviet government send an ultimatum to Romania, and the regions of Besarabia and northern Bucovina became parts of the USSR.