BESSARABIA, a government of south-west Russia, separated on the W. and S. from Moldavia and Walachia by the Pruth, and on the E. and N. from the Russian governments of Podolia and Kherson by the Dniester; on the S.E. it is washed by the Black Sea. Area, 17,614 sq. m. The northern districts are invaded by offshoots of the Carpathians, which reach altitudes of 800 to 1150 ft., and are cut up by numerous ravines and river valleys. Here, however, agriculture is the prevailing occupation, the soil being the fertile black earth. The crops principally raised are wheat and maize, though here, as well as in other parts of the government, barley, flax, tobacco, water-melons, gourds, fruit, wine, saffron and madder are grown. The middle of the government is also hilly (850-1000 ft.), and is heavily timbered, chiefly with beech, oak and mountain-ash, and, though to a smaller extent, with birch. The districts south of the old Roman earthworks which link the Dniester with the Pruth along the line of the Botna, just south of Bender, consist of level pasture-land known as the Budjak steppes. Here stock-breeding is the predominant calling, the people owning large numbers of sheep, cattle and horses, also goats, pigs and buffaloes. Lagoons fringe the lower course of the Pruth and the coast of the Black Sea, and marshy ground exists beside the Reuth and other tributaries of the Dniester. The climate is rather subject to extremes, the mean temperature for the year, at Kishinev, being 50° Fahr., of January 27°, and of July 72°. The rainfall amounts to over 25 in. annually. Salt, saltpetre and marble are the principal mineral products. Manufacturing industry is only just beginning, wine-making (17,000,000 gallons annually), cloth-mills, iron-works, soap-works and tanneries being the principal branches. Both the Dniester and the Pruth are important waterways commercially, the former being navigable up to Mogilev and the latter to Leovo (46° 30' N. lat.). Down the Dniester come timber and wooden wares from Galicia, and grain and wool from Bessarabia itself. Three branches of the railway from Odessa to Poland penetrate the government and proceed towards the Carpathians. The population numbered 988,431 in 1860 and 1,938,326 in 1897, of whom only 302,852 were urban, while 942,179 were women. In 1906 it was estimated at 2,262,400. It consists of various races, nearly one-half (920,919 in 1897) being Moldavians, the others Little Russians, Jews (37% in the towns and 12% in the rural districts), Bulgarians (103,225), Germans (60,206), with some Gypsies (Zigani), Greeks, Armenians, Tatars and Albanians. The Germans, who form some thirty prosperous colonies in the Budjak steppes west from Akkerman, have been settled there since about 1814. The government is divided into eight districts, the chief towns of which are Akkerman (pop. 32,470 in 1900), Bender (33,741 in 1900), Byeltsi (18,526 in 1897), Izmail (33,607 in 1900), Khotin (18,126), Kishinev (125,787 in 1900), Orgeyev (13,356), and Soroki (25,523 in 1900). The capital is Kishinev. Kagul, on the Pruth, and Reni on the Danube (the place to which Alexander of Bulgaria was carried when kidnapped by the Russians in 1886), are small, but lively, river-ports.
The original inhabitants were Cimmerians, and after them came Scythians. During the early centuries of the Christian era Bessarabia, being the key to one of the approaches towards the Byzantine empire, was invaded by many successive races. In the 2nd century it was occupied by the Getae, a Thracian tribe, whom the Roman emperor Trajan conquered in 106; he then incorporated the region in the province of Dacia. In the following century the Goths poured into this quarter of the empire, and in the 5th century it was overrun one after the other by the Huns, the Avars and the Bulgarians. Then followed in the 7th century the Bessi, a Thracian tribe, who gave their name to the region, and in the 9th the Ugrians, that is to say the ancestors of the present Magyars of Hungary, the country being then known as Atel-kuzu. The Ugrians were forced farther west by the Turkish tribe of the Petchenegs in the 10th century, and these were succeeded in the 11th century by the Kumans (Comani) or Polovtsians, a kindred Turkish stock or federation. In the 13th century Bessarabia was overrun by the irresistible Mongols under the leadership of Batu, grandson of Jenghiz Khan. In this century also the Genoese founded trading factories on the banks of the Dniester. In 1367 Bessarabia was subdued and annexed by the ruling prince of Moldavia. During the 16th century it was in the possession alternately of the Turks and the Nogais or Crimean Tatars. From early in the 18th century it was a bone of contention between the Ottoman Turks and the Russians, the latter capturing it five times between 1711 and 1812. In the latter year it was definitely annexed to Russia, and in 1829 its frontier was pushed southwards so as to include the delta of the Danube. After the Crimean War, however, Russia ceded to Moldavia not only this later addition, but also certain districts in the south of the existing government, amounting altogether to an area of 4250 sq. m. and a population of 180,000. By the treaty of Berlin (1878) Russia recovered of this 3580 sq. m., with a population of 127,000.
See Nakko, History of Bessarabia, in Russian (1873).
(P. A. K.; J. T. Be.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)