After centuries of domination by the Roman, Bulgar, Hungarian, Ottoman and Russian empires, the Eastern European principalities of Walachia and Moldavia unify to form Old Romania in 1859. The union is officially recognised by the Ottoman Empire and the European powers in 1861.

Old Romania is proclaimed a constitutional monarchy in 1866, led by Prince Carol I, a southern German related to the royal family of Prussia.

The country achieves full independence from the Ottoman Empire on 3 March 1878, following the Russo-Turkish War. Independence is formally recognised by the European powers in 1880. However, the new nation remains incomplete. The ethnically Romanian regions of Transylvania to the west, and Bukovina and Bessarabia to the north and east lie outside the country's borders. Transylvania and Bukovina are part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Bessarabia is held by Russia.

In March 1881 the Romanian parliament proclaims the country a kingdom. Prince Carol I becomes King Carol I, the first king of Romania. The new nation is deeply nationalistic and determined to maintain its freedom.

Meanwhile, Romania's Jewish population begins to expand rapidly during the 19th Century, mainly as a result of immigration. In 1899 the Jewish population of Old Romania is estimated to number 260,000. In 1930 the Jewish population of Greater Romania (Old Romania plus Transylvania, Bukovina and Bessarabia) is estimated to number 730,000, making Greater Romania's Jewish community the third largest in Eastern Europe, after the Soviet Union and Poland.

Many Romanians see the newcomers as an economic and social threat. Jews face increasing levels of antisemitism.

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