Basarab I of Wallachia

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Basarab I the Founder
Basarab I of Wallachia.jpg
Basarab I. (fresco in Argeş)
Voivode of Wallachia
from c. 1344 with Nicolae Alexandru
Reign c. 1310/before 1324 – 1351/1352
Predecessor Thocomerius (uncertain)
Successor Nicholas Alexander
Issue daughter
Nicholas Alexander
Dynasty Basarab
Father Thocomerius
Died 1351 or 1352

Basarab I (Romanian pronunciation: [basaˈrab]), also known as Basarab the Founder (Romanian: Basarab Întemeietorul), was the first independent ruler – voivode or prince – of Wallachia in the first half of the 14th century. Most details of his life are uncertain. The Turkic origin of his name implies that he was descended from a Cuman family, but 14th-century sources unanimously mentioned him as a Vlach. Basarab came into power before 1324. The circumstances of his ascension are unknown. He succeeded either his father, Thocomerius, or the legendary founder of Wallachia, Radu Negru, according to two popular theories.

A royal charter, which was issued on 26 July 1324, is the first document to refer to Basarab. According to that charter, he was subjected to Charles I of Hungary as voivode of Wallachia. Basarab became "disloyal to the Holy Crown of Hungary" already in 1325. He took possession of the Banate of Severin and made raids against the southern regions of the Kingdom of Hungary. He supported Michael Shishman of Bulgaria against Serbia, but their united armies were defeated in the Battle of Velbazhd on 28 July 1330. Before long, Charles I of Hungary invaded Wallachia, but the Wallachians ambushed and almost annihilated the royal troops in the Battle of Posada between 9 and 12 November 1330.

The battle of Posada marked the end of Hungarian suzerainty in Wallachia and the appearance of the first independent Romanian principality. Basarab's descendants ruled in Wallachia for centuries. Bessarabia – the land between the rivers Dniester and Prut – was named after the Basarab dynasty.


Basarab was the son of one Thocomerius, according to a 1332 charter of Charles I of Hungary.[1][2] Thocomerius's social position cannot be determined.[3] According to a scholarly hypothesis, he was descended from Seneslau, a mid-13th-century Vlach lord.[4][5] Historian Vlad Georgescu writes that Thocomerius "probably" succeeded Bărbat, the late 13th-century ruler of Oltenia.[6] Historian Tudor Sălăgean says that Thocomerius was "a local potentate".[3]

Basarab's name is of Turkic origin.[7][8] Its first part is the present participle for the verb bas- ("press, rule, govern"); the second part is identical with the Turkic honorific title aba or oba ("father, elder kinsman"), which can be recognized in Cuman names, such as Terteroba, Arslanapa and Ursoba.[9] Basarab's name implies that he was descended from a family of Turkic – Cuman or Pecheneg – origin, but this hypotesis has not been proven.[10][8][11] At least four 14th-century royal charters mentioned that Basarab was Vlach.[12] For instance, Charles I of Hungary referred to him as "Basarab, our disloyal Vlach" in 1332.[11][1]

Pope John XXII addressed Basarab as a "devout Catholic prince" in a letter on 1 February 1327.[13] On the same day, the pope sent identical or similar letters to Charles I of Hungary and his great officials, including Thomas Szécsényi, Voivode of Transylvania, Mikcs Ákos, Ban of Slavonia, asking them to support the Dominicans' actions against the "heretics".[14][15] According to scholar Neagu Djuvara, the correspondence with the Holy See proves that Basarab was Catholic, which also testifies Basarab's Cuman origin, because the Cumans had received baptism according to the Catholic rite.[16] Historians Matei Cazacu and Dan I. Mureşan reject Djuvara's theory, emphasizing that all other sources prove that Basarab was Orthodox.[17] For instance, the Illuminated Chronicle, which was completed in the late 1350s, referred to Basarab as "perfidious schismatic".[18][19]


Charles I's voivode (before 1325)[edit]

The circumstances of Basarab's emergence are obscure.[20][21] The earliest Romanian chronicles did not mention him and attributed the foundation of Wallachia to the legendary Radu Negru.[22][23] Radu Negru came from Făgăraș to Wallachia in 1290 or 1292, accompanied by "many peoples: Romanians, Catholics, Saxons", according to 17th-century Wallachian chronicles.[24] One of those chronicles, Istoria Țării Românești, writes that Basarab was the name of a family of Oltenian boyars, or noblemen, who accepted Radu Negru's suzerainty after his "dismounting".[25] Among modern historians, Djuvara tentatively identifies Basarab (or rather Basarab's father) with Radu Negru;[26] Laurenţiu Rădvan writes that Basarab either dethroned or peacefully succeeded Radu Negru after 1304 and before 1324;[27] other historians, including Vlad Georgescu, say that Basarab succeeded his father, Tochomerius, around 1310.[6][28]

The contemporaneous John Kantakouzenos recorded that "Ungrovlachs" and "Scythians" – Vlachs from Wallachia and Tatars, respectively – supported Michael Shishman of Bulgaria against the Byzantine Empire in 1323.[14][29] However, the first record of Basarab was made only in the next year: a charter of Charles I of Hungary, which was issued on 26 July 1324,[30] mentioned him as "our voivode of Wallachia".[20] The charter shows that Charles I regarded Basarab as his loyal vassal in that year.[30][20] Historian István Vásáry says that Basarab only accepted Charles's suzerainty after the king restored royal authority in the Banate of Severin, a border province of the Kingdom of Hungary in Oltenia, in 1321.[31] In exchange for his loyalty, Basarab's possession of the Severin Fort was confirmed, according to historians Tudor Sălăgean and Attila Bárány.[13][32]

Towards independence (1325-1330)[edit]

Further information: Battle of Posada
The battle of Posada (Viennese copy of Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle)
King Charles I fleeing from the battle at Posada

A royal charter, dated to 18 June 1325, narrated that one Stephen, who was the son of a Cuman ispán, stated that Basarab was more powerful than Charles I of Hungary, saying that the king "did not even reach up to Basarab's ankle", during a brawl between the young Cuman and a Hungarian nobleman.[11][33] The same charter stated that Basarab was "disloyal to the Holy Crown of Hungary", showing that Basarab had abandoned his previous policy of loyalty.[11][10] For no royal charters made mention of a Ban of Severin between 1324 and 1330, Basarab seems to have controlled the entire banate during this period.[14] In his letter of 1327, Pope John XXII alluded to the "territories of the Kingdom of Hungary which were subjected" to Basarab.[11] A 1329 royal charter listed Basarab, along with the Bulgarians, the Serbs and the Tatars, among the enemies who "kept making hostile inroads" in the region of Mehadia.[20][34]

Michael Sishman, Tzar of Bulgaria, launched a military expedition against Serbia in 1330.[35] Vlach and "black Tatar" auxiliary troops, and "the ruler of the Yas" accompanied him.[14][36][37] According to a letter of Stephen Dušan, the future Emperor of Serbia, and other Serbian sources, Basarab – who is named as Basarabe or Basarabu Ivan'ka – personally led his army to Serbia.[38] The Serbs routed the united army of Michael Sishman and his allies in the Battle of Velbazhd on 28 July.[6][39] Michael Sishman was killed while fleeing from the battlefield.[13][40]

Taking advantage of the weakened position of Basarab's allies, Charles I of Hungary decided to restore his suzerainty in Wallachia.[6][13] He wanted to recapture certain "marginal lands" that Basarab "illegally" held in Wallachia, according to a royal charter issued two years after the events.[41] Charles I invaded Oltenia, captured the Severin Fort and made Dionysius Szécsi Ban of Severin in September 1330.[34] Basarab offered 7,000 "marks of silver"[42] as compensation and a yearly tribute to the king, according to the Illuminated Chronicle.[6][34] He also promised that he would send one of his sons to the royal court in Visegrád.[34]

However, Charles I haughtily refused Basarab's offer, saying that "[h]e is the shepherd of my sheep, and I will drag him by his beard from his lair".[42][43] He continued the campaign, but he and his soldiers suffered hunger while marching through a sparsely populated region towards Curtea de Argeș.[34] Charles was compelled to sign an armistice with Basarab and the royal army began to retreat from Wallachia.[34] The Wallachians ambushed the king and his warriors at a narrow pass of the Southern Carpathians on 9 November.[44] Standing on the cliffs above the valley, the Wallachians began to shoot arrows and hurle rocks upon the Hungarians, decimating them.[34][44] The massacre lasted till 12 November.[34][44] Even the king could narrowly escape from the battlefield.[34] Historian Sălăgean says that Basarab repelled Charles I's invasion without support from his allies.[44] According to a 1351 charter of Charles I's son and successor, Louis I of Hungary, pagan "neighbors and a troop formed of other subjects unfaithful" to Charles I supported Basarab during the war, which suggests that Tatar auxiliaries also fought on Basarab's behalf.[45] However, the credibility of that report, recorded decades after the events, is suspect.[45]

Independent ruler (1330-1352)[edit]

Archaeological research shows that his seat in Curtea de Argeș was destroyed during Charles I's campaign and he moved his seat to Câmpulung.[46] Basarab's victory in the Battle of Posada enabled him to introduce an active foreign policy.[44] He supported his son-in-law, Ivan Alexander, to seize the Bulgarian crown in February 1331.[44] Ivan Alexander made successful military campaigns against the Byzantine Empire in 1331 and 1332 with Basarab's support.[44] Basarab allegedly took possession of the Severin Fort in the early 1330s, according to Sălăgean.[44]

The reconstruction of Curtea de Argeș started after 1340 with the erection of new fortifications and a new palace.[47] The erection of the Princely Church of St. Nicholas also commenced during Basarab's rule, but it was completed only after his death.[48] Basarab seems to have made his son, Nicholas Alexander, his co-ruler around 1344.[44][49] Louis I of Hungary, who had succeeded Charles I in 1342, marched to the southeastern region of Transylvania in the summer of 1344.[50] In order to avoid a campaign against Wallachia, Nicholas Alexander visited Louis I and swore loyalty to him, according to the nearly contemporaneous John of Küküllő's chronicle.[50] According to a Wallachian chronicle, Wallachian troops supported Andrew Lackfi, Count of the Székelys, against the Mongols in 1345, but historian Victor Spinei denies the reliability of this report.[51][52] Basarab died in the year 6860 of the Byzantine calendar, which is AD 1351 or 1352, according to a charter of his grandson, Vladislav I Vlaicu.[44]


Stephen Dušan mentioned Basarab as "the father-in-law of Tzar Alexander of Bulgaria" in his letter about the Battle of Velbazhd, proving that Basarab's daughter was the wife of Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria.[53] Historian Vásáry says that Basarab gave his daughter in marriage to Ivan Alexander (who was Michael Shishman of Bulgaria's nephew) around 1323 to strengthen his alliance with Bulgaria.[14] She gave birth to children, but Ivan Alexander abandoned her and married a converted Jewess, Theodora, in the 1350s.[54] Basarab's son, Nicholas Alexander, who succeeded his father, gave up Basarab's alliance with Bulgaria.[44]


The Princely Church of St. Nicholas at Curtea de Argeș

Basarab's victory was a turning point in the history of Wallachia.[55] According to Sălăgean, Basarab's victory "sanctioned the independence of Wallachia from the Hungarian crown" and essentially altered its international status.[44] Georgescu describes Basarab's Wallachia as the "first independent Romanian principality".[6] Although the kings of Hungary did not cease to demand fidelity from the voivodes of Wallachia, Basarab and his successors only temporarily yielded to them in the 14th century.[55]

The dynasty descending from Basarab the Founder ruled in Wallachia for centuries.[48][56] For instance, Mircea the Old and Vlad Dracula were his descendants.[48] Neagoe Basarab, who was a member of the Craiovești boyar family, forged a genealogy to prove his descent from Basarab and adopted the family name of the old dynasty after ascending the throne in 1512.[48]

Bulgarian, Hungarian, Moldavian and Serbian chronicles used the name Basarab when referring to Wallachia from the middle of the 14th century.[57] From the next century onward, the southern region of the land between the rivers Dniester and Prut were named Basarabia, which proves that the voivodes of Wallachia ruled the region for decades.[57][58] After the Russian Empire annexed the lands between the two rivers in 1812, the whole region was named as Bessarabia.[57] The same lands now form the Republic of Moldova.[57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cazacu & Mureșan 2013, pp. 27-28.
  2. ^ Vásáry 2005, pp. 151-153.
  3. ^ a b Sălăgean 2005, p. 193.
  4. ^ Coman 2012, p. 88.
  5. ^ Rădvan 2010, p. 137.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Georgescu 1991, p. 17.
  7. ^ Djuvara 2014, p. 74.
  8. ^ a b Spinei 2009, p. 353.
  9. ^ Vásáry 2005, p. 151.
  10. ^ a b Rădvan 2010, p. 129.
  11. ^ a b c d e Vásáry 2005, p. 153.
  12. ^ Cazacu & Mureșan 2013, pp. 27-29.
  13. ^ a b c d Sălăgean 2005, p. 194.
  14. ^ a b c d e Vásáry 2005, p. 150.
  15. ^ Györffy 1964, p. 551.
  16. ^ Djuvara 2014, p. 75.
  17. ^ Cazacu & Mureșan 2013, pp. 31-32.
  18. ^ The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle: (ch. 209.145), p. 147.
  19. ^ Cazacu & Mureșan 2013, p. 30.
  20. ^ a b c d Andreescu 1998, p. 86.
  21. ^ Rădvan 2010, p. 130.
  22. ^ Rădvan 2010, pp. 130-131.
  23. ^ Djuvara 2014, p. 70.
  24. ^ Rădvan 2010, pp. 130, 147.
  25. ^ Rădvan 2010, p. 131.
  26. ^ Djuvara 2014, p. 77.
  27. ^ Rădvan 2010, p. 132.
  28. ^ Treptow & Popa 1996, pp. xlvii, 38.
  29. ^ Spinei 1986, p. 126.
  30. ^ a b Vásáry 2005, p. 149.
  31. ^ Vásáry 2005, pp. 146, 148-149.
  32. ^ Bárány 2012, p. 358.
  33. ^ Djuvara 2014, p. 76.
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i Vásáry 2005, p. 154.
  35. ^ Fine 1994, p. 271.
  36. ^ Spinei 1986, pp. 126-127.
  37. ^ Györffy 1964, p. 546.
  38. ^ Vásáry 2005, pp. 111-112.
  39. ^ Fine 1994, pp. 271-272.
  40. ^ Fine 1994, p. 272.
  41. ^ Bárány 2012, p. 87.
  42. ^ a b The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle: (ch. 209.144), p. 147.
  43. ^ Bárány 2012, p. 359.
  44. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Sălăgean 2005, p. 195.
  45. ^ a b Andreescu 1998, p. 88.
  46. ^ Rădvan 2010, pp. 162, 244.
  47. ^ Rădvan 2010, p. 244.
  48. ^ a b c d Treptow & Popa 1996, p. 39.
  49. ^ Rădvan 2010, p. 266.
  50. ^ a b Kristó 1988, p. 195.
  51. ^ Spinei 1986, p. 177.
  52. ^ Andreescu 1998, p. 89.
  53. ^ Cazacu & Mureșan 2013, p. 31.
  54. ^ Fine 1994, p. 366.
  55. ^ a b Vásáry 2005, p. 155.
  56. ^ Georgescu 1991, p. 35.
  57. ^ a b c d Vásáry 2005, p. 143.
  58. ^ Rădvan 2010, p. 319.


Primary sources[edit]

  • The Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle: Chronica de Gestis Hungarorum (Edited by Dezső Dercsényi) (1970). Corvina, Taplinger Publishing. ISBN 0-8008-4015-1.

Secondary sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Rásonyi, László (1935). "Contributions à l’histoire des premières cristallisations d’état des Roumains. L’origine des Basarabas [Contributions to the History of the First Crystallization of the Romanian State: The Basarabs' Origins]". Études sur l'Europe centre-orientale (in French) 3: 10–16. 
Basarab I of Wallachia
Died: 1351 or 1352
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Thocomerius (?)
Voivode of Wallachia
before 1324–1351 or 1352
Succeeded by
Nicholas Alexander