Romania and the Second Balkan War. Participation of Certain Future Prime Ministers

Atasez mai jos textul comunicarii sustinute in cadrul First international symposium on balkan history studies methodological approaches 26–28 April 2013 Balıkesir/Turkey

Ioan Scurtu

Ionuţ Cojocaru

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Balkans were considered “the powder keg” of Europe. After several centuries of Ottoman domination, the peoples in this zone were aiming to found independent national states. Between March and October 1912, through bilateral treaties, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia founded the Balkan alliance. On September 25/ October 8, 1912, Montenegro started the first Balkan War, by attacking the Ottoman Empire. On the 4th /17th of October Bulgaria and Serbia entered the war too and Greece and Montenegro joined them on the 5th / 18th of October. In this context, many Romanian politicians joined different military units and others enlisted as volunteers. Among them we find Constantin Argetoianu and N. Iorga.                                                                               

Keywords: Balkans, Balkan War, bilateral alliances, Peace of London, Peace of Bucharest, Nicolae Iorga, Constantin Argetoianu

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Balkans were considered “the powder keg” of Europe. After several centuries of Ottoman domination, the peoples in this zone were striving to found independent national states. Theprocess began in the first decades of the 19th century. In 1829, by the Treaty of Adrianople, the Ottoman Empire recognised the independence of Greece, guaranteed the internal autonomy of Serbia, and lost the monopoly on Wallachia’s and Moldavia’s trade.


 After the Russian-Romanian-Turkish war of 1877-1878, which ended with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the Congress of Berlin and the peace treaty signed in July 1878 recognised the state independence of Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, the creation of the principality of Bulgaria (vassal to Turkey), of the autonomous region of Oriental Rumelia within the borders of the Ottoman Empire, and the right of Austro-Hungary to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina[1].

On October 5, 1908, Bulgaria proclaimed her independence, and Ferdinand I of Saxe-Cobourg took the title of tsar, and the Ottoman Empire acknowledged these deeds on April 6, 1909.

On the same day of October 5, 1908, Austro-Hungary occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina, an action which was officially acknowledged by the Ottoman Empire on February 26, 1909. Serbia was deeply displeased, for she was striving for the unification of the Slavic peoples living in the Balkan Peninsula, and Russia was equally discontent, for she was looking askance at the increasing influence of the Habsburg Empire in this region. That is why she encouraged the formation of an alliance of all Orthodox states of this zone.

 Between March and October1912, through bilateral alliances, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro and Serbia formed the Balkan alliance[2].

On September 25 / October 8, 1912[3], Montenegro started the first Balkan War by attacking the Ottoman Empire. On the 4th / 17th of October Bulgaria and Serbia entered the war too, and Greece and Montenegro joined them on the 5th / 18th of October.

Each of these four states wanted to occupy different territories which were under Ottoman domination: Bulgaria wanted Macedonia and Thrace, Greece was coveting Thessaloniki and Ioannina, an as large as possible part of Macedonia and Northern Epirus, and Montenegro longed for the sanjak of Novi Pazar and the North of Albania.

On the 16th / 29th of October, Titu Maiorescu, president of Romania’s Council of Ministers, declared to Bulgaria’s minister in Bucharest: “If territorial changes are to occur in the Balkans, Romania will have a word to say about it”[4].

Fighting bravely, the coalition occupied the city of Adrianople, threatening the capital, Constantinople. The Great Powers intervened and landed troupes in Constantinople under the pretext of protecting the foreign citizens living there. The Ottoman Empire agreed with this action, and the Balkan troops accepted the armistice on the 20th of November / 3rd of December.

Peace talks began in London on the 3rd /16th of December 1912 with negotiations between the four Balkan states and Turkey, and the next day started the conference of the ambassadors of Germany, Austro-Hungary, Italy, Russia, France and Great Britain.
The government led by Titu Maiorescu asked that the conference should also discuss the rectification of the border between Romania and Bulgaria, in Dobruja, for the one established by the Great Powers in 1878, at the Berlin Congress was not acceptable from the strategic point of view. There was also a historical argument. Mircea the Elder, the voivode of Wallachia, had ruled over the entire Dobruja, therefore in a document of 1406 he called himself “despot of the realm of Dobrotici and sole master of the city of Dârstor”[5]. The name of Dârstor derived from Durostorum, used by the Romans, had received the name of Silistra during the Turkish domination.

 This request of Romania was accepted and the conference decided that the city of Silistra and a territory of about 3 kilometres around it be restored to Romania. In London there were negotiations between the representatives of Romania and Bulgaria. No agreement was reached as to the territorial issues, but a protocol was signed, January 16/29, 1913, a protocol through which Bulgaria pledged herself to guarantee the autonomy of Romanian schools and churches in Macedonia that would happen to be situated on Bulgarian possessions.

On the 18th / 31st of March – 26th of April / 9th of May, the conference of the ambassadors of the Great Powers (Russia, Germany, Austro-Hungary, Great Britain, Italy and France) was held in Petersburg and a protocol was signed through which Bulgaria was yielding to Romania the town of Silistra and its surroundings.

The peace signed on the 17th / 30th of May 1913 put an end to the first Balkan War. The Ottoman Empire gave way to the allies the territories situated West to the Enos-Midia and Crete line.

Bulgaria was dissatisfied with the decisions made at the London Conference so on the 16th / 29th of June she attacked Serbia suddenly and unexpectedly, beginning the second Balkan War. Serbia’s first allies were Greece and Montenegro, and subsequently the Ottoman Empire too joined them.

On the 27th of June / 10th of July, Romania sent Bulgaria a note in which she stated that: “The Romanian government has warned in due time the Bulgarian government that if the Balkan allies were to be at war, Romania might not keep aside as she had done previously in the interest of peace and she would see herself compelled to react”. Since the Bulgarian government “did not think it was necessary to answer this note”, and its troops attacked Serbia, without any notification, “the Romanian army received order to intervene”[6].

The news was received enthusiastically by the public opinion in Romania. In Bucharest and in other localities great manifestations were organised in order to support the urgent participation in the war. Bulgaria’s action was seen as a manoeuvre of Austro-Hungary, who wanted to subdue Serbia. For South-Slavic peoples Serbia was a symbol of that independence they too were longing for. Serbia who encouraged this aspiration was regarded in Vienna as an enemy of the Habsburg Empire.

The situation was relatively similar for Romania too. In 1867, year of the founding of Austro-Hungary, Transylvania, inhabited mostly by Romanians, was absorbed by Hungary, who began a violent policy of denationalisation of this population. Consequently, the Romanians intensified their fight of liberation from Austro-Hungary’s domination. The regime of Budapest retorted by sharpening the persecutions, and by arresting many of the political leaders of the Romanians in Transylvania. Although ever since 1883 a treaty of alliance had been concluded between Romania and Austro-Hungary, the tensions between the two states were more and more conspicuous.

On this background, Romania began to mobilise her army. Alexandru Marghiloman, future president of the Council of Ministers (since 1918) of Romania, noted: “Manifestation at the Palace. Some wear banderols on which it is written <Down with Austria>”[7]. Travelling from Bucharest to Buzǎu, Marghiloman met: “Clusters of people going to the regiments, hailing merrily”[8].

The fact that Bulgaria was supported by Austro-Hungary, as both were eager to defeat Serbia, spurred the Romanians to return in kind to the governments of Vienna and Budapest. In fact, these manifestations were only aiming to liberate their brothers from beyond the Carpathians and to have them united with Romania.

Camille Blondel, minister of France in Bucharest, wrote: “If someone not knowing the main objective of the mobilisation would have imagined that the whole Romania was leaving for war against Austria”. N. Iorga also noted: “The Romanian mobilisation took place with gushing shouts against Austro-Hungary”[9]. The conviction was in the air that a victory in the South of the Danube would evince the capacity of the Romanian army which would accrue the confidence in one’s own forces and in a triumphant battle meant to liberate the Romanians of Transylvania.

Half a year ago, on the 8th of December 1912, the poet Ștefan O. Iosif had published the poem To arms! which became a sort of national anthem, and which began with these lines: “Come, you valiant defenders of the land! / Come, for the holly day has risen / It is the great day of resurrection / Of the bullet torn flag! / Come from all the corners of the horizon / To conquer what we have to conquer!”


Thus, based on the decision of the 27th of June / 10th of July, the Romanian troops took action, and advanced in two directions: one was in Dobruja and the other in the South of the Danube. The troops under the command of general Culcer occupied Silistra and the Bulgarian shore of the Black Sea. The main force, led by general Alexandru Averescu, chief of the General Staff, crossed the Danube at Corabia and Bechet in the presence of Carol I. Since the aging king was already 73 years old, Ferdinand[10], the Crown prince, was appointed supreme commander of the troops.

In that atmosphere, many Romanian politicians joined different military units and others enlisted as volunteers. Among them we find Constantin Argetoianu and N. Iorga.

 Constantin Argetoianu, who would become president of the Council of Ministers in 1939, had in 1913 the rank of captain. As he was a doctor, he was sent on an ambulance of the third Division of Infantry, led by general Tǎnǎsescu. In his memoires, Argetoianu described in details his participation in the campaign of Bulgaria.

 He crossed the Danube at Bechet and reached the town of Racova, whose civilian population had deserted it. He saw “here and there, in a doorway or at a window an old man or an old woman who had remained in their homes, for probably they had not been able to leave the town”[11].

From Racova he went to Selanovtsi, where he met the first convoy of prisoners, who had surrendered themselves to a column of Romanian cavalry. When arriving at Altemir, he observed the village was “almost deserted”. He went on to Vraca, a locality with ”small ruined houses, with small windows and thatched roofs and more rarely, here and there, with roofs covered with tiles or sheets.” Otherwise, the school was large, clean and modern. In the big square of the town he saw the statue of Hristo Botev, the Bulgarian patriot who had worked hard for the Bulgarian emigration in Romania (1867-1876), had organised and participated in the anti-Ottoman rebellion which burst in April 1876, and during which he was killed.

In Vraca, Constantin Argetoianu encountered the first case of cholera. On July 11, while walking in the streets with his colleague doctor Laugier, “a little girl who was watching us called us in a small house across the street, and we saw that at the back of a large yard the soldiers of the third Regiment Olt, quartered next door, were washing their clothes in a fountain. We entered a squalid place; at the back of the dark and sole room, an old woman was lying on a wooden bench. We got closer to her and Laugier began to examine her; after a few minutes he stared at me and uttered only one word: cholera! I had never seen a case of cholera in my life, but I trusted totally Laugier’s diagnostic”[12]. The old woman died the same day.

Argetoianu’s unit kept on advancing on Bulgarian territory, and stopped in a locality called Ohranie. Here, on July 13, they were invaded by the news about the spread of the cholera, both among Bulgarian civilians and militaries and among the Romanians. In Ohrane hospitals were set up ad-hoc in local schools. For eight days they lived a nightmare: “People were dying like flies and in the evening several trucks were ranging at the gate of each hospital to take and bury the dead during the night. They were loading them as they found them and by piling them up they were taking them to huge common graves full of lime, where they were burying them with neither coffin nor God”[13]. This tragedy lasted for eight days, until the team of doctors led by Ioan Cantacuzino came from Bucharest and began to vaccinate the people with anti-cholera serum, isolated the sick and treated them. When the hostilities ended, the sick were transported back in Romania, where, on the left bank of the Danube, several hospitals had been arranged and were by now ready to receive them.

In Ohranie, C. Argetoianu saw Ion I.C. Brǎtianu, former president of the Council of Ministers (between 1909 – 1910, and future head of the Romanian government between 1914-1918, 1918-1919, 1922-1926 and 1927), dressed in a captain’s uniform, attached to the General Staff of general Crǎiniceanu, commander of the second Army Corps.

While being in Orhanie, Argetoianu met also N. Iorga, future president of the Council of Ministers (in 1931-1932), dressed in a sergeant’s uniform.

            In his memoirs, C. Argetoianu mentions that he was in a certain locality named Baniţa, when he heard that the war ended by Bulgaria’s capitulation. Under these new circumstances, major Argetoianu returned to Romania.

N. Iorga, who, a year ago had held a course at the Sorbonne (Paris) entitled History of Balkan states in the modern era, and published twice in French[14], was interested to see himself on-the-spot how the military hostilities were conducted, how the Bulgarians were receiving Romanian culture and how they regarded Romania in general, and what the situation of the Latin element was like on the South bank of the Danube.

In the books where he recorded his memories, N. Iorga evoked his participation in the second Balkan War, and as a historian he analysed this event in several works.

When the second Balkan War started, N. Iorga was a professor at the University of Bucharest, as well as at the Superior School of War. He volunteered to join the Romanian army, and since he had not done his military service he put on a soldier’s uniform. He was appointed sergeant at the press office of the General Staff. He heard himself the Romanian soldiers who were crossing the Danube shouting “To Transylvania!” In his opinion this cry “corresponded to a firm imperative nurtured by anyone whose eyes were seeing clearly and were wide opened forward”. It was obvious that the war “was about to start against Austria’s will”[15].

  N. Iorga stepped on the soil of Bulgaria by crossing the Danube at Bechet, and his military unit encountered no resistance from the Bulgarians. The action “looks more like an excursion”[16], noted N. Iorga.  He arrived at Biela Slatina, where “people were thronging to see us rather by curiosity than enmity”.  He was lodged in a lawyer’s house who spoke the Romanian language and they discussed about the history and culture of the Romanians.

On reaching the town of Ohranie, Iorga was welcomed by an old man whose name was Racovski, and who “spoke to me beautifully, in Romanian, about the grateful feelings his generation nurtures for Romania”[17]. In this town he also met people who had come to Romania many a time, “as greengrocers or as day labourers”, so that in 1913 “the enemies”, who were at war, “understood each other and got along instantaneously”[18]. He was lodged in the house of an intellectual, where he was offered warm milk, chicken soup and fresh eggs. This friendly attitude was due to the fact that many Bulgarian intellectuals had been well received in Romania, where they had edited newspapers and books, and had organised patriotic societies sharing thus decisively in the awakening of the national consciousness of their compatriots living on the South bank of the Danube.

In the book The Life of a Man as It Was, N. Iorga recalls that he saw I.C. Brǎtianu on the front, wearing the uniform of an artillery major, “surrounded by a whole politic court and gathering the elements of a party offensive which had not to be delayed, with a programme of economic and social reforms meant to legitimate his return to power”[19].  Iorga was referring to the fact that Ion I. C. Brǎtianu had resigned from the office of president of the National-Liberal Party and was now conditioning his return at the head of this party of the acceptance of his programme regarding the implementation of the electoral reform, which had mainly in view the extension of the right to vote, and the land reform through the expropriation of some of the largest agrarian properties and their distribution to landless or with few land peasants.

Returning from the front, Brǎtianu succeeded to impose his views, using among other arguments the fact that in Bulgaria there were no large agrarian properties, all tillable lands belonging to the peasants.

N. Iorga, as well as Argetoianu, noted the Bulgarian soldiers’ reluctance to fight:  “The impression made by this new for the Romanians country was of the most peaceful”, and the Bulgarians “had undoubtedly no will whatsoever to fight”[20]. The soldiers wanted to go back to their villages and gather their crops, after they had lost the grain harvest of 1912.

The historian – war volunteer – arrived at Plevna, and “wandered in the streets which seemed to me full of the tortured shadows of 1877”[21], obvious reference to the battles fought there during the war for Romania’s state independence.

Actually, N. Iorga witnessed no military confrontation between the Romanian and Bulgarian soldiers. To his mind the explanation resided in the fact that: “the peasant soldiers of the Bulgarian king, weary of such a long campaign, were quitting by their own will, to the great despair of their officers, and were returning to their hearths for harvest”[22].

Therefore, N. Iorga and his military unit of Plevna returned to their country via Nicopolis, then crossed the Danube and entered Bucharest soon afterwards. Here “summer music was resounding in [public] gardens, along with exultant yells and the clinks of the pints [of bier]”, as if the country were not at war[23].

Without encountering any resistance from Bulgarian troops, the Romanian army arrived at 20 kilometres of Sofia. On the 6th / 19th of July, king Ferdinand sent a cable to king Carol I, proposing the cessation of hostilities and the conclusion of the peace. Carol accepted and ordered his army to advance no more. By this decision the king of Romania wanted to avoid humiliating his Bulgarian peer. Princess Maria (the future queen) would write:

“Our cavalry had arrived in front of Sofia, but Uncle, out of a feeling of chivalry for king Ferdinand, did not allow our army to enter the capital of Bulgaria”, a fact which caused “a great disappointment among both soldiers and officers”[24].

On the 10th / 23rd of July, Titu Maiorescu, president of the Council of Ministers, submitted to Ghenadiev, chief of the Bulgarian government, the proposition that peace negotiations be held in Bucharest.

In his turn, on the 11th /24th of July, Carol I sent cables to the kings of Serbia, Greece and Montenegro asking them to stop the military hostilities against Bulgaria in order to prepare the negotiations for peace.

The peace Conference, held in Bucharest on the 16th / 29th of July – 28th of July / 10th of August 1913, presided by Titu Maiorescu, was attended by the representatives of  Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro. For the first time in their history, the Balkan states were negotiating just between themselves, without the interference of the Great Powers. The Ottoman Empire was not invited, under the pretext that the negotiations referred to territorial modifications that involved only Christian states.

The peace treaty was signed by the five states on the 28th of July / 10th of August 1913. Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire signed anther peace treaty in Constantinople, on the 29th of September 1913.

These treaties established the new territorial order in the Balkans: Bulgaria yielded to Serbia the South of Macedonia, to Greece – the South of Macedonia and a part of Western Thrace, to Romania – the Quadrilater (Southern Dobruja, with a surface of 7.726 square kilometres) up to the Turtucaia-Ecrene line, and to the Ottoman Empire – Eastern Thrace, including the town of Adrianople.

After the 1912-1913 wars, the Balkans witnessed important transformations, a fact which is proven by the evolution of the population in the five states[25]:

Country             Before               After

Romania          7 500 000            350 000

Bulgaria           5 000 000         1 200 000

Serbia               4 000 000         1 200 000

Greece               4 500 000         1 600 000

Montenegro          500 000           150 000

Greece was the country that won the most, her territory increasing by 51.300 km2 and 1,6 million of souls. In her turn, Serbia got a common frontier with Montenegro, inhabited by a Slavic population, creating thus a breach in the borders established by Austro-Hungary, who had occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After the second Balkan War, the Ottoman Empire recovered a part of Thrace, ensuring thus the security of the capital Constantinople and of the Straits at the Black Sea.

Besides the small territorial gain obtained, Romania succeeded to convince the representatives of Greece (Venizelos), Serbia (Pasici) and Bulgaria (Toncev) to sign a letter with an identical content through which they pledged to grant autonomy to the schools and churches belonging to the Romanians living in the Balkan Peninsula, respectively on the new territories acquired through the treaty, to allow that the Romanian state allot subventions to these institutions, under the surveillance of the governments of the respective states. These letters were considered as an annex to the Treaty of the 28th of July / 10th of August 1913[26].

Austro-Hungary insisted that the Treaty of Bucharest be discussed and decided upon by the Great Powers, within a European congress, as it had been the custom until then when Balkan states were the issue of the day. Austro-Hungary’s demarche remained unfruitful and what had been decided at the level of the local states was to remain valid.

Austro-Hungary’s position during the Balkan Wars influenced decisively the reorientation of Romania’s foreign policy in the near future. In July 1914, when Austro-Hungary attacked Serbia – which led to the outbreak of World War II – the government of Bucharest did not comply with her request to join her, in accordance with the successively renewed treaty of 1883, believing that it was not Serbia who had attacked Austro-Hungary, on the contrary, it was Austro-Hungary who had started the war against Serbia.

 The frontiers established through the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest have proven their viability in time. However, certain small territorial rectifications intervened, among which the yielding of the Quadrilater to Bulgaria, in September 1940.

It is worthwhile noticing the efforts towards a rapprochement of all Balkan states through a better mutual understanding. It is in the wake of this desideratum that we must view the initiative of the Romanian historian N. Iorga, who, in the fall of 1913, founded the Institute of South-East European Studies, which started its activity in 1914, gathering scientists from all the states of the region.

[1] Istoria  lumii în date. Coordinator Andrei Oţetea, Bucharest, Editura Enciclopedicǎ Românǎ, 1972,  p. 225

[2] Nicolae Ciachir, Istoria popoarelor din sud-estul Europei în epoca modernǎ (1789-1923), Bucharest, Editura Ştiinţificǎ şi Enciclopedicǎ, 1987, p. 328

[3] Since certain states, among which Romania, used the old style, and others used the new one, in order to indicate more accurately the dates we shall use both styles.

[4] Istoria românilor, vol. VII. Coordinator Gheorghe Platon, Bucharest, Editura Enciclopedicǎ, 2003, p. 282

[5] Istoria Românilor, vol. IV. Coordinators Ștefan Ștefǎnescu and Camil Mureşan, Bucharest, Editura Enciclopedicǎ, 2001, p. 288

[6] Istoria politicii externe româneşti. în date. Coordinator Ion Calafeteanu, Bucharest, Editura Enciclopedicǎ,  2003,  p. 209

[7] Alexandru Marghiloman, Note politice, vol. I. Edition by Stelian Neagoe, Bucharest, Editura Scripta, 1993, p. 108

[8] Ibidem.

[9] N. Iorga, Istoria Românilor, vol. X, Bucharest, 1939, p. 328

[10] Ibidem, p. 326

[11] Constantin Argetoianu, Memorii. Pentru cei de mâine. Amintiri din vremea celor de ieri, vol. I-II. Second edition, by Stelian Neagoe, Bucharest, Editura Machiavelli, 2008,  p. 212

[12] Ibidem, pp. 221-222

[13] Ibidem, p. 225

[14] N. Iorga, O viaţǎ de om. Aşa cum a fost. Edition by Valeriu and Sanda Râpeanu, Bucharest, Editura Minerva 1972, p.440

[15] N. Iorga, Acţiunea militarǎ a României, Bucharest, 1913, p. 99

[16] N. Iorga, O viaţǎ de om. Aşa cum a fost. Edition by Valeriu and Sanda Râpeanu, Bucharest, Editura Minerva, 1972, p. 442

[17] Ibidem, 446

[18] Ibidem

[19] Ibidem

[20] Ibidem,

[21] Ibidem

[22]  N. Iorga, Istoria Românilor,  p. 330

[23] N. Iorga, O viaţǎ de om, p. 448

[24]  Maria, regina României, Povestea vieţii mele, vol. II. Translated from English by Margarita Miller-Verghi. Edition Ioana Cracǎ, Bucharest, Editura Eminescu, 1991, p. 355

[25]  Nicolae Ciachir, op. cit., p. 340

[26] Stelian Brezeanu and Gheorghe Zbuchea (coordinators), Românii de la sud de Dunǎre. Documente, Bucharest, Arhivele Naţionale ale României, 1997, pp. 238-239