BESSARABIA BASARABIA (Romanian); BESSARABIIA (Russian).
Region between the Rivers Pruth and Dniester, extending north- and northwestwards from the northern arm of the Danube delta to the district around Khotyn in the northwest;
- A province in Tsarist Russia, 1812-1917;
- A part of Romania, 1918-40.
It is now divided between Moldova and the Ukraine.
The region lay on the edge of Roman influence. It was usually dominated by whichever people had control of the steppelands, though in the 7th century it was occupied by a Thracian people, the Bessi, from which, according to one account, it got its name. (Another attributes the name to the Wallachian dynasty of Bassarab, one of Wallachia’s early rulers).
After the Mongol invasions of the 1230s and 1240s it formed part of the Tatar terrritory. Late in the 13th century Nogaj, the local chieftain in the west of the Tatar dominions, fell out with the Khan of the Golden Horde, the principal ruler of the Tatars in the Russian steppelands. By 1299 he had been killed. His son tried to take control of Bulgaria but was killed in 1300 by Theodore Svetoslav, who became ruler of Bulgaria. By 1314 Theodore held southern Bessarabia, probably by grant from the grateful Khan of the Golden Horde, whose successor in 1321 however soon took it back.
In 1367 Bessarabia became the east of the Moldavian principality and in 1538 it was subjected to the Ottoman Empire, which annexed the southern coastal region.
Bessarabia was an area of conflict between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in the later 18th century and in 1812 was ceded to Russia, where it became a province (guberniya). In 1829 the Danube delta also became part of Russia, though in 1856, at the end of the Crimean War, Russia was obliged to surrender it to the Ottoman Empire. At the same time a strip of southern Bessarabia, from the lower reaches of the Pruth to the coast almost as far as the estuary of the Dniester was transferred to the principality of Moldavia, which became part of united Romania in 1859. This transfer to Moldavia separated Russia from the Danube.
In 1878 Russia recovered Southern Bessarabia from Romania, which received the Danube delta and the Dobrudja from the Ottoman Empire in compensation.
In December 1917 Bessarabia briefly became a separate Soviet Republic, but by March 1918 it had become the independent republic of Moldavia (Bessarabia). The following month Romanian troops entered Bessarabia. In 1919 the victorious allies recognised the union of the region with Romania, where it was divided into several counties. In June 1940 Soviet troops entered Bessarabia, though the Soviet occupation lasted little more than a year, because the German invasion of Russia enabled Romania to recover the region and indeed to add to it.
In 1944 the Russians returned. The northernmost part of Bessarabia, around Khotyn, and the southern lands between the Danube (from its confluence with the Pruth) and the Dniester estuary were transferred to the Ukrainian SSR; the remainder, was joined with a part of the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (within the Ukraine) to become the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (now the independent republic of Moldova).