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CHAPTER IV

EARLY HISTORY

Bessarabia, then, is a rich farming and grazing country; but its sad history is not due to its neighbors' covetousness of these privileges. Bessarabia has the doubtful advantage of controlling the mouths of the Danube, the greatest navigable river of Central and Eastern Europe, down which floats the traffic of Bavaria, Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, Serbia, Roumania and Bulgaria; and she possesses on the Dniester a series of ports—Hotin, Bender (Tighina) and Akkerman (Cetatea Alba)—which are the nearest outlets to the sea for Poland and (till the founding of Odessa) the Ukraine. So Bessarabia has always been a pawn in contests between Turks, Poles, Hungarians, Austrians and Russians for its strategic advantages.

When our era opens, we find the Dacians established in this corner of Europe; Greek traders had settled along the coast, and penetrated inland; and Roman merchants and colonists were filtering in. The Dacians long defied the Roman Empire; Augustus had to give up his dream of subjecting them; but finally Trajan succeeded (in 107 n. n.) in subjugating them; and Bessarabia, with other parts of Dacia, knew its first strong, centralized government. Parvan, Director of the Roumanian School of Classical Studies in Rome, has recently shown that knowledge of Latin must have been widespread in Dacia before the Roman conquest; in any case, whether there was Roman colonization on a large scale or not, Latin became the current spoken language of the country, as of Moesia and Noricum, the provinces which formed a connection with Italy. This Latin has never died out. For a thousand years, no one ever wrote it; it was the despised dialect of shepherds and peasants, who lived under a dozen different governments, many more or less hostile to the language; but the tough conservatism of the Daco-Roman prevailed; religious propaganda, in Reformation daps, committed the language to writing; and during the nineteenth century, Roumanian had a stately literary development. Roumanian poetry,, based on popular ballads, is especially melodious.

This preservation of Latin, from the Adriatic out to the Black Sea, is the more astounding in that the Roman administration of Dacia lasted only about 160 years. Those were golden years, however-the period that Gibbon and Mommsen pronounced perhaps the happiest that civilized has ever known. In those generations of peace and law, Dacia was a closely-knit province; excellent roads bound together Transylvania, the Banat, the Bucovina, Moldavia (of which Bessarabia is the eastern half) and Wallachia. These formed Dacia, just as today they form Roumania; their bond of union is the Roumanian language, the modern form of Dacian Latin. Not merely is it the prevailing tongue over all this country, but it is spoken by hundreds of thousands more, in widely severed lands, from the Monte Maggiore in Istria, inland from Abbazia, down into the Pindus Mountains in Greece and out beyond the Dniester, in the Ukrainian territories which have recently been formed by the Russian authorities into the Moldavian Soviet Republic. Indeed, Roumanian acquaintances of mine tell me that during the war they found Roumanian villages in Eastern Siberia; and some years ago in Bessarabia I fell in with a Russian land-owner who, after Denikin's collapse—he had been an officer in his army—made his way around through the Caucasus, and was astonished to come upon Roumanian villages there, where the peasants, he said, talk just as they do in Bessarabia. I emphasize the importance of the languagea at the very start, because it has been a most important factor in the struggles for union of the different branches of the Roumanian peoples.

aSee "Greater Romania," Ch. XXIV.

It would be interesting to follow the vicissitudes of Bessarabia after the departure of the Roman legions; but Vandals, Goths and Huns need detain us little. The invasions of the Slavs, in the sixth century, were more important. Daco-Roman and Slav must have been as closely in contact for centuries as are Russian and Roumanian peasants in Bessarabia today. The language was enormously affected, adopting hundreds of Slav words, and even Slav sounds, constructions and syntactical usages, which give a strange cast to the language (see pp. 83, 280). In any case, we must not forget that in Bessarabia, Slav and Daco-Roman have been in close and friendly contact for 1400 years.

Last of the great invasions from the northeast was that of the Tartars, in the thirteenth century. After their power was spent, we discover three Roumanian principalities arising-Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia. One of the early Wallachian rulers, Mircea the Old, of a family named Basarab, in a document of 1387 n. n., boasts that he is ruler not only of Transylvania and the Banat, but of the Tartar districts, as well as both shores of the Danube, up to the Great Sea. Tartars and Turks were so much impressed by the prowess of the Basarabs that they called their country Basarabia. This term has been loosely used, sometimes covering even all Roumania, sometimes Wallachia, sometimes Moldavia, but in later centuries prevailingly either the whole district between the Danube, Pruth, Dniester and Black Sea (in which sense we use it) or the southern part of this region-the Budjak (Bugeac).

Fortification of Hotin. The Town and Fortress of Soroca of the Dniester.

As the Moldavian principality grew in power, its rulers felt the need of a port; Hotin, which commanded a much-used crossing of the Dniester, was their first acquisition. In a document of 1387, we find mention of a Moldavian governor of Hotin, so that at the time when the Wallachians were established in the south of Bessarabia, the Moldavians were already in possession of its chief northern stronghold. Alexander the Good of Moldavia, who came to the throne in 1400, found the Tartars weakened by their great defeat of 1380 at the hands of the Russians, and drove them from Bender (Tighina), which lay on the great highway connecting the interior with the Genoese port of Caffa (Theodosia) in the Crimea. The Genoese had another port on the Dniester itself, Akkerman (Cetatea Alba), for which they paid tribute to the Tartars. Alexander ousted the Tartars from this region also, some time before 1408, and the Genoese of Akkerman became his tributaries; he confirmed them in all their rights. Thus early in the fifteenth century, the whole bank of the Dniester became Moldavian. But Alexander was not satisfied. He wanted a port directly on the Danube; and shortly before 1412, he secured Kilia (Chilia), which was in the "Land of the Basarabs"—Wallachia. This was another Genoese trading-center. The Wallachian princes hated to lose their tribute, and fought for Kilia, but in vain. Alexander and Mircea made a treaty, by which the Sereth (Suet) and one of its upper affluent became the boundary between Moldavia and Wallachia. Moldavia was now in control of the whole region between Carpathians, Sereth, Danube and Dniester—a country of some 36,000 square miles, of which Bessarabia made up almost a half.

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