Transylvania, although they formed the majority of the population, Romanians were merely seen as a "tolerated nation" by the Austrian leadership of the province, and were not proportionally represented in political life and the Transylvanian Diet.
At the end of the 18th century an emancipation movement known as the Transylvanian School (Şcoala Ardeleană) formed, which tried to emphasize that the Romanian people were of Roman origin, and also adopted the modern Latin-based Romanian alphabet (which eventually supplanted an earlier Cyrillic script). It also accepted the leadership of the pope over the Romanian church of Transylvania, thus forming the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church. In 1791, they issued a petition to Emperor Leopold II of Austria, named Supplex Libellus Valachorum based on the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, demanding equal political rights with the other ethnicities for the Romanians in Transylvania. This movement, however leaned more towards westernization in general, when in fact the origin of the Romanian people is not only from the peoples of the former Roman Empire, but also from the ancient Dacians, predating the arrival of the Romans, not to mention that from around the 1600s to the 1800s Romanian culture was heavily influenced by Eastern influences as emphasized through the Ottomans, and the Phanariotes.
The end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century was marked in Wallachia and Moldavia by the reigns of Phanariote Princes; thus the two principalities were heavily influenced by the Greek world. Greek schools appeared in the principalities and in 1818 the first Romanian School was founded in Bucharest by Gheorghe Lazăr and Ion Heliade Rădulescu. Anton Pann was a successful novelist, Ienăchiţă Văcărescu wrote the first Romanian grammar and his nephew Iancu Văcărescu is considered to be the first important Romanian poet. In 1821 an uprising in Wallachia (a region of Romania) took place against Ottoman rule. This uprising was led by the Romanian revolutionary and militia leader Tudor Vladimirescu.
The revolutionary year 1848 had its echoes in the Romanian principalities and in Transylvania, and a new elite from the middle of the 19th century emerged from the revolutions: Mihail Kogălniceanu (writer, politician and the first prime minister of Romania), Vasile Alecsandri (politician, playwright and poet), Andrei Mureşanu (publicist and the writer of the current Romanian National Anthem) and Nicolae Bălcescu (historian, writer and revolutionary).
Mihai Eminescu, national poet of Romania and Moldova.
The union between Wallachia and Moldavia in 1859 brought a growing consolidation of Romanian life and culture. Universities were opened in Iaşi and in Bucharest and the number of new cultural establishments grew significantly. The new prince from 1866 and then King of Romania, Carol I was a devoted king, and he and his wife Elisabeth were among the main patrons of arts. Of great impact in Romanian literature was the literary circle Junimea, founded by a group of people around the literary critic Titu Maiorescu in 1863. It published its cultural journal Convorbiri Literare where, among others, Mihai Eminescu, Romania's greatest poet, Ion Creangă, a storyteller of genius, and Ion Luca Caragiale, novelist and the Romania's greatest playwright published most of their works. During the same period, Nicolae Grigorescu and Ştefan Luchian founded modern Romanian painting; composer Ciprian Porumbescu was also from this time.
In Transylvania, the emancipation movement became better organised and in 1861 an important cultural organisation ASTRA (The Transylvanian Association for Romanian Literature and the Culture of the Romanian People) was founded in Sibiu under the close supervision of the Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan Andrei Şaguna. It helped publish a great number of Romanian language books and newspapers, and between 1898 and 1904 it published a Romanian Encyclopedia. Among the greatest personalities from this period are: the novelist and publicist Ioan Slavici, the prose writer Panait Istrati, the poet and writer Barbu Ştefănescu Delavrancea, the poet and publicist George Coşbuc, the poet Ştefan Octavian Iosif, the historian and founder of Romanian press in Transylvania George Bariţiu and Badea Cârţan, a simple peasant shepherd from Southern Transylvania who, through his actions became a symbol of the emancipation movement.
The first half of the 20th century is regarded by many as the golden age of Romanian culture and it is the period when it reached its main level of international affirmation and a strong connection to the European cultural trends. The most important artist who had a great influence on the world culture was the sculptor Constantin Brâncuși (1876–1957), a central figure of the modern movement and a pioneer of abstraction, an innovator of world sculpture by immersion in the primordial sources of folk creation.
The relationship between traditional and Western European trends was a subject of heated polemics and outstanding personalities sustained the debates. The playwright, expressionist poet and philosopher Lucian Blaga can be cited as a member of the traditionalist group and the literary critic founder of the literary circle and cultural journal Sburătorul, Eugen Lovinescu, represents the so-called Westernizing group, which sought to bring Romanian culture closer to Western European culture. Also, George Călinescu was a more complex writer who, among different literary creations, produced the monumental "History of the Romanian literature, from its origins till present day".
Brătianu and Magheru boulevards, Bucharest, late 1930s
The beginning of the 20th century was also a prolific period for Romanian prose, with personalities such as the novelist Liviu Rebreanu, who described the struggles in the traditional society and the horrors of war, Mihail Sadoveanu, a writer of novels of epic proportions with inspiration from the medieval history of Moldavia, and Camil Petrescu, a more modern writer distinguishing himself through his analytical prose writing. In dramaturgy, Mihail Sebastian was an influential writer and as the number of theaters grew also did the number of actors, Lucia Sturdza Bulandra being an actress representative of this period.
Alongside the prominent poet George Topîrceanu, a poet of an equal importance was Tudor Arghezi who was the first to revolutionize the poetry in the last 50 years. One should not neglect the poems of George Bacovia a symbolist poet of neurosis and despair and those of Ion Barbu a brilliant mathematician who wrote a series of very successful cryptic poems. Tristan Tzara and Marcel Janco, founders of the Dadaist movement, were also of Romanian origin.
Also during the golden age came the epoch of Romanian philosophy with such figures as Mircea Vulcănescu, Dimitrie Gusti, Alexandru Dragomir, and Vasile Conta. The period was dominated by the overwhelming personality of the historian and politician Nicolae Iorga who, during his lifetime published over 1,250 books and wrote more than 25,000 articles. In music, the composers George Enescu and Constantin Dimitrescu and the pianist Dinu Lipatti became world-famous. The number of important Romanian painters also grew, and the most significant ones were: Nicolae Tonitza, Camil Ressu, Francisc Şirato, Ignat Bednarik, Lucian Grigorescu and Theodor Pallady. In medicine a great contribution to human society was the discovery of insulin by the Romanian scientist Nicolae Paulescu. Gheorghe Marinescu was an important neurologist and Victor Babeş was one of the earliest bacteriologists. In mathematics Gheorghe Ţiţeica was one of Romania's greatest mathematicians, and also an important personality was the mathematician/poet Dan Barbilian.