Bessarabia, a S. W. province of European Russia, bounded N. and E. by the Dniester, which separates it from Austrian Galicia, and the Russian governments of Podolia and Kherson, S. E. by the Black sea, and S. and W. by Moldavia and Bukowina; area, 14,012 sq. m.; pop. in 1867, 1,052,013, comprising Moldavians, Russians, Bulgarians, Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Gypsies, and French and German colonists. The northern and larger part of Bessarabia is traversed by a low branch of the Carpathian mountains, with a succession of wooded hills and vales, and a fertile soil. The lower part of the province consists of fertile but treeless steppes, watered by tributaries of the Dniester and Pruth, and affording rich pasturage for horses, buffaloes, and sheep. Immense quantities of wheat, barley, and maize are raised. The vine flourishes, and melons and other fruits grow in abundance. Flax, hemp, tobacco, dye plants, and poppies are also raised. Coal and marble have been found in the mountains, and saltpetre in the environs of Soroki on the Dniester The principal rivers of Bessarabia are the Dniester, the Yalpukh, tributary of the Danube, and the Pruth, which forms a part of the W. boundary.
The climate is mild and salubrious, but in the southern parts, which are not sheltered by mountains, the winters are very severe and the summers excessively warm. The seat of government is at Kishenev. The only harbor is Akerman. Other important towns are Bender, Soroki, and Khotin or Chocim, all on the Dniester. - The primitive inhabitants of Bessarabia were nomadic Scvthian tribes. It was nominallv a part of the Roman province of Dacia. In the 3d century it was occupied by the Goths, and in the 5th it was ravaged by the Huns. Then followed the Avars, Bulgarians, and Slavs. In the 7th century the Bessi obtained the supremacy, and from them the country is said to have taken its name. In the 14th century it formed part of Moldavia, and with it, in the 16th, became tributary to Turkey. It soon after suffered a terrible incursion of Tartars, and subsequently the horrors of frequent wars between the Russians and Turks. In the peace of Bucharest (1812) it was ceded to Russia. By the treaty of Paris (1856) Russia ceded to Turkey the southern part of Bessarabia, which included Ismail, Tutchkov, the district of Kagul, the greater part of that of Akerman, and most of the salt lakes.
This was annexed to Moldavia.