The 2,000 years of history of a people tempts the writer, and the reader, to seek out long-term trends to provide guidance through complex and contradictory evolutions. So it is with the history of the Romanians. From medieval times to the early twentieth century they followed stages similar to those of other nations in Eastern Europe and even of Europe as a whole: feudalism, of a sort, and a mainly agricultural economy and rural society, until the nineteenth century, and, then, down to the First World War, the transition, slow at the beginning, to an industrial economy and an urban society, where agriculture and the village nonetheless predominated. All the while, from the eighteenth century, the shape of a modern Romanian nation, intellectually at least, was taking form. Then came the interwar period, only twenty years long, when the modernization impulses accelerated, and then, for forty years, came the Communists, who pursued modernization with methods and goals of their own. The post-Communist years offer hints that the Romanians may once again be headed along the path taken two centuries earlier.
What especially may define the Romanians over the long term is their place between East and West. It grants the writer a wide perspective from which to arrange the events of their history. They confronted the dilemma of choice between these two poles from the beginning of their statehood in the fourteenth century, when the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia were founded. Or, if we are willing to stretch reason a bit, we may say that the East–West encounter began for them even earlier. It came with encounters between the Thracians and Dacians, first with the ancient Greek cities along the Black Sea coast and then with the Romans, the conquerors of Dacia in the early second century. These connections with the West were ethnic, linguistic, and historiographical. Crucial contacts with the East followed, with the Byzantine Empire and the Orthodox world and their Bulgarian and Serbian heirs. The links here were pre-eminently spiritual and cultural, but political, too.