Stephen III of Moldavia
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|Stephen the Great|
|Monarch of Moldavia|
Miniature from the 1473 Gospel at Humor Monastery
|Reign||April 12, 1457 – July 2, 1504|
Borzești, Bacău County, Moldavia
|Died||July 2, 1504
|Romanian||Ștefan cel Mare|
|House||House of Mușat|
|Father||Bogdan II of Moldavia|
Stephen III of Moldavia, known as Stephen the Great (Romanian: Ștefan cel Mare; pronounced [ˈʃtefan t͡ʃel ˈmare]) or Saint Stephen the Great (Romanian: Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt; died on 2 July, 1504) was voivode (or prince) of Moldavia from 1457 to 1504. He was the son and co-ruler of Bogdan II of Moldavia who reigned from 1449 to 1451. After his father was murdered by his brother (Stephen's uncle), Peter III Aaron, Stephen fled to Hungary. He returned to Moldavia with the support of Vlad Dracula, Voivode of Wallachia and forced Peter Aaron to seek refuge in Poland in the summer of 1457. Teoctist I, Metropolitan of Moldavia, anointed him prince.
Stephen continued to pay the yearly tribute that Peter Aaron had promised to send to the Ottoman Empire. He made a raid against Poland in 1458 to prevent the Poles from supporting Peter Aaron. In the following year, Stephen acknowledged the suzerainty of Casimir IV Jagiellon, King of Poland, who promised to stop defending Peter Aaron. Stephen decided to recapture Chilia (now Kiliya in Ukraine), an important port on the Danube, which brought him into conflict with Hungary and Wallachia. He tried to seize the town for the first time during the Ottoman invasion of Wallachia in 1462, but he was seriously wounded during the siege. Two years later, he captured the town. When the leaders of the Three Nations of Transylvania rebelled against Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, in 1467, Stephen promised them support against the king. After crushing the rebellion, Corvinus invaded Moldavia, but Stephen defeated him in the Battle of Baia. Stephen made raids against Hungary during the following years. Peter Aaron tried to regain Moldavia with Hungarian support in December 1470, but Stephen defeated him and ordered his execution.
During his reign, he strengthened Moldavia and maintained its independence against the ambitions of Hungary, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire, which all sought to subdue the land. Stephen achieved fame in Europe for his long resistance against the Ottomans. He was victorious in 46 of his 48 battles, and was one of the first to gain a decisive victory over the Ottomans, at the Battle of Vaslui. Following this victory, Pope Sixtus IV deemed him verus christianae fidei athleta (true Champion of Christian Faith). He was a man of religion and displayed his piety when he paid the debt of Mount Athos to the Porte, ensuring the continuity of Athos as an autonomous monastic community.
Stephen was the son of Bogdan, a son of Alexander the Good, Prince of Moldavia. His mother, Maria-Oltea, was most probably related to the princes of Wallachia, according to historian Radu Florescu. The date of Stephen's birth is unknown. Historians estimate that he was born between 1433 and 1440. He was born in Borzești.
The death of Alexander the Good in 1432 gave rise a succession crisis which lasted for more than two decades. Stephen's father mounted the throne in 1449, with the support of John Hunyadi, Regent-Governor of Hungary. Stephen was styled voivode in his father's charters, showing that Bogdan II appointed Stephen his heir and co-ruler. A pretender to the Wallachian throne, Vlad Dracula, came to Moldavia around this time. Vlad and Stephen fought side by side against the invading Poles in the Battle of Crasna in June 1450.
Bogdan acknowledged the suzerainty of Hunyadi in 1450. Bogdan was murdered at Răuseni by his brother, Peter III Aaron, in October 1451. Stephen fled from Moldavia and settled in Hungary. Peter Aaron did homage to Casimir IV, King of Poland and Grand Prince of Lithuania, in 1455. A year later, he agreed to pay a yearly tribute to the Ottoman Empire.
Vlad Dracula invaded Wallachia and seized the throne with the support of Hunyadi in 1456. Stephen either accompanied Vlad to Wallachia during the military campaign or joined him after Vlad became the ruler of Wallachia. With the assistance of Vlad, Stephen broke into Moldavia at the head of an army of 6,000 strong in the spring of 1457. In addition to Wallachian troops, "men from the Lower Country" (the southern region of Moldavia) also joined him, according to the Moldavian chronicles. The 17th-century Grigore Ureche wrote, Stephen routed Peter Aaron at Doljești on 12 April. According to Ureche, Stephen launched a second defeat on Peter Aaron at Orbic, forcing him to seek refugee in Poland.
After his victory over Peter Aaron, an assembly of the Wallachian boyars and clergymen acclaimed Stephen the ruler of Moldavia at a meadow near Suceava. Teoctist I, Metropolitan of Moldavia, anointed him prince. To emphasize the sacral nature of his rule after his anointement, he styled himself "By the Grace of God, ... Stephen voivode, lord (or hospodar) of the Moldavian lands" already in a charter on 13 September 1457.
Stephen respected the terms of Peter Aaron's treaty with the Ottoman Empire and continued to pay the yearly tribute. He broke into Poland to prevent Casimir IV from supporting Peter Aaron in 1458. His first military campaign "established his credentials as a military commander of stature", according to historian Jonathan Eagles. He wanted to avoid a prolonged conflict with Poland, because the recapture of Chilia (now Kiliya in Ukraine) was his principal aim. Chilia was an important port on the Danube that Peter II of Moldavia had surrendered to Hungary in 1448.
Stephen signed a treaty with Poland on the river Dniester on 4 April 1459, acknowledging the suzerainty of Casimir IV. The treaty prescribed Casimir to protect Stephen against his enemies and to forbide Peter Aaron to return to Moldavia. Peter Aaron left Poland for Kingdom of Hungary and settled in Székely Land in Transylvania. Stephen broke into Székely Land more than one times in 1461. Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, decided to support Peter Aaron, giving him shelter in his capital at Buda. Stephen made a new agreement with Poland in Suceava on 2 March 1462, promising to personally swear fealty to Casimir IV if the king required it. The new treaty declared that Casimir was the sole suzerain of Moldavia, prohibiting Stephen to alienate Moldavian territories without Casimir's authorization. The treaty also obliged Stephen to recapture the Moldavian territories that had been lost, obviously in reference to Chilia.
Written sources evidence that the relationship between Stephen and Vlad Dracula became tense in early 1462. On 2 April 1462, the Genoese governor of Caffa (now Feodosia in Crimea) informed Casimir IV of Poland that Stephen had attacked Wallachia while Vlad Dracula was waging war against the Ottomans. The Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II, invaded Wallachia in June 1462. Mehmed II's secretary, Tursun Beg, recorded that Vlad Dracula had to station 7,000 soldiers near the Wallachian-Moldavian frontier during the sultan's invasion to "protect his country against his Moldavian enemies". Taking advantage of the presence of the Ottoman fleet at the Danube Delta, Stephen laid siege to Chilia in late June. According to Domenico Balbi, the Venetian envoy in Constantinople, Stephen and the Ottomans besieged the fortress for eight days, but they could not capture it, because the "Hungarian garrison and Dracula's 7,000 men" defeated them, killing "many Turks". During the siege, Stephen was seriously wounded on his left calf.
Stephen again laid siege to Chilia on 24 January 1465. The Moldavian army bombarded the fortress for two days, forcing the garrison to surrender on 26 January. In the same year, he peacefully regained the fortress of Hotin (now Khotyn in Ukraine) on the Dniester from the Poles. To commemorate the capture of Chilia, Stephen ordered the construction of the Church of the Assumption of the Mother of God in a glade on the Putna River in 1466. After the capture of Chilia, the Ottoman sultan regarded Stephen his enemy, because the town was also claimed by Radu the Fair, Voivode of Wallachia, who was the sultan's vassal.
At Matthias Corvinus's demand, the Diet of Hungary abolished all previous exemptions relating the tax known as the chamber's profit. The leaders of the Three Nations of Transylvania regarded the reform as an infringement of their privileges and declared that they were ready to fight against the king to defend their liberties on 18 August 1467. Stephen promised support to them, but they yielded to Corvinus without resistance after the king marched to Transylvania. Corvinus invaded Moldavia and captured Baia, Bacău, Roman and Târgu Neamț. Stephen assembled his army and launched a crushing defeat on the invaders in the Battle of Baia in December. Corvinus, who received wounds in the battle, could only escape from the battlefield with the help of Moldavian boyars (or noblemen) who had joined him. Stephen ordered the execution of 20 boyars and 40 other landowners before the end of the year.
Stephen again swore loyalty to Casimir IV of Poland in the presence of the king's envoy in Suceava on 28 July 1468. He made raids against Transylvania between 1468 and 1471. Casimir IV came to Lviv in February 1469 to receive Stephen's homage personally, but Stephen did not go to meet him. In the same year, Tatars invaded Moldavia, but Stephen routed them in the Battle of Lipnic near the Dniester. To strengthen the defence system along the river, Stephen decided to erect new fortresses at Old Orhei and Soroca around the same time. A Wallachian army laid siege to Chilia, but it could not force the Moldavian garrison to surrender.
Matthias Corvinus sent peace proposals to Stephen. Stephen's envoys sought Casimir IV's advice on Corvinus's proposals at the Sejm (or general assembly) of Poland at Piotrków Trybunalski in late 1469. Stephen invaded Wallachia and destroyed the port of Brăila on the Danube in February 1470. Peter Aaron hired Székely troops and broke into Moldavia in December 1470. Stephen defeated them near Târgu Neamț. Peter Aaron fell into captivity in the battlefield. He and his Moldavian supporters (among them Stephen's vornic and chancellor, Isaia and Alexa) were executed at Stephen's order. Radu the Fair invaded Moldavia, but he was defeated in March 1471.
Relationship between Casimir IV and Matthias Corvinus became tense in early 1471. After Stephen failed to support Poland, Casimir IV dispatched an embassy to Moldavia, demanding Stephen to comply with his obligations. Stephen met the Polish envoys in Vaslui on 13 July. He reminded them about hostile acts that Polish noblemen commited along the border and demanded the extradiction of the Moldavian boyars who had fled to Poland. Stephen sent his envoys to Hungary to start negotiations with Corvinus. He granted commercial privileges to the merchants from the Transylvanian town of Brașov on 3 January 1472.
Wars with the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman pressure on Stephen to abandon Chilia and Cetatea Albă (now Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi in Ukraine) on the Black Sea increased in the early 1470s. Instead of obeying to the Ottoman demands, Stephen decided to put an end to his subordination to the sultan and denied to send the yearly tribute to the Sublime Porte in 1473. While Mehmed II waged a war against Uzun Hassan in Anatolia, Stephen invaded Wallachia to replace the sultan's vassal, Radu the Fair, with his protégé, Basarab Laiotă. He routed the Wallachian army at Râmnicu Sărat in a battle that lasted for three days from 18 to 20 November. Four days later, the Moldavian army captured Bucharest and Stephen placed Basarab on the throne. Radu regained Wallachia with Ottoman support before the end of the year. Basarab again expelled Radu in 1475, but the Ottomans once more assisted Radu to return to Wallachia. To restore Basarab, Stephen launched a new campaign to Wallachia in October, forcing Radu to flee from the principality.
To restore Ottoman suzerainty, Mehmed II ordered Hadım Suleiman Pasha, Beylerbey (or governor) of Rumelia, to invade Moldavia. Hadım Suleiman Pasha broke into Moldavia at the head of an army of about 120,000 strong in late 1475. The Wallachians joined the Ottoman army, but Stephen received only limited support from Poland and Hungary. Outnumbered by the invaders by three to one, Stephen was forced to retreat as far as Vaslui. He joined battle with Hadım Suleiman Pasha at Podul Înalt (or the High Bridge) on 10 January 1475. Before the battle he had sent his buglers to hide behind the Ottoman army. They suddenly sounded their bugles which caused a panic among the invaders who started to flee from the battlefield. During the next three days, hundreds of Ottoman soldiers were massacred and the survivors retreated from Moldavia.
Stephen's victory in the Battle of Vaslui was "arguably one of the biggest European victories over the Ottomans", according to historian Alexander Mikaberidze. Mara Branković, Mehmed II's stepmother, stated, the Ottomans "had never suffered a greater defeat". She urged the Venetians to take advantage of the situation and try to persuade the Ottomans to sign a peace treaty, but the Ottomans were unwilling to offer favorable terms. Stephen sent letters to the European rulers to seek their support against the Ottomans, reminding them that Moldavia was "the Gateway of Christianity" and "the bastion of Hungary and Poland and the guardian of these kingdoms". Pope Sixtus IV praised Stephen as Verus christiane fidei athleta ("The true defender of the Christian faith"), but neither the pope nor other European powers sent material support to Moldavia.
Stephen sent Moldavian troops to the Crimea to place his brother-in-law, Alexander, on the throne of the Principality of Theodoro. He also decided to expel his former protégé, Basarab, from Wallachia, because Basarab had supported the Ottomans during their invasion of Moldavia. At his request, Matthias Corvinus released Vlad Dracula (who had been imprisoned in Hungary in 1462). Stephen and Dracula made an agreement to put an end to the conflicts between Moldavia and Wallachia, but Dracula did not receive support from Corvinus to invade Wallachia. The Ottomans invaded and occupied the Principality of Theodoro and the Genoese colonies in the Crimea before the end of 1475. In revenge for the massacre of Alexander of Theodoro and his Moldavian retinue, Stephen had his Ottoman prisoners executed.
Mehmed II personally commanded a new invasion against Moldavia in the summer 1476. Wallachian troops joined the Ottomans during the invasion, and Tatars also broke into Moldavia at the sultan's order. Matthias Corvinus sent an army of 42,000 strong to assist Stephen, according to a report of a Florentine diplomat. Stephen routed the Tatar raiders in a battle, but he suffered a defeat in the Battle of Valea Albă at Războieni on 26 July. He had to seek refuge in Poland, but the Ottomans could not capture the Moldavian fortresses at Suceava and Neamț. The lack of sufficient provisions and an outbreak of cholera in the Ottoman army forced Mehmed II to withdraw from Moldavia, enabling Stephen to return from Poland.
This proved to be illusory, as Laiotă quickly turned his back on Stephen, deeming that Ottoman protection would better help him consolidate his rule. With Stephen's support, Laiotă was removed from the throne in 1482 by Vlad Călugărul, brother to Vlad Tepes, and for the remainder of the 15th century Wallachia remained relatively stable under his rule.
After 1484, when he lost the fortresses of Chilia Nouǎ and Cetatea Albǎ to an Ottoman blitz invasion, Stephen had to face not only new Turkish onslaughts which he defeated again on November 16, 1485 at Catlabuga Lake and at Șcheia on the Siret River in March 1486, but also the Polish designs on Moldavian independence. Finally on August 20, 1503 he concluded a treaty with Sultan Beyazid II that preserved Moldavia's self-rule, at the cost of an annual tribute to the Turks.
From the 16th century on, the Principality of Moldavia would spend three hundred years as an Ottoman vassal. In his late years, he dealt successfully with a Polish invasion, defeating the Poles at the Battle of the Cosmin Forest.
Battle of Valea Albă
After the disaster of the Battle of Vaslui, the Sultan Mehmed II assembled a large army and entered Moldavia in June 1476. Meanwhile, groups of Tartars from the Crimean Khanate (the Ottomans' recent ally) were sent to attack Moldavia. Romanian sources may state that they were repelled,. Other sources state that joint Ottoman and Crimean Tartar forces "occupied Bessarabia and took Akkerman, gaining control of southern mouth of Danube. Stephan tried to avoid open battle with the Ottomans by following a scorched-earth policy." In the process the Moldavians forces ended up being dispersed throughout the country, leaving only a small force of about 12–20,000 men, led by Ștefan cel Mare himself, to face the main Ottoman attack.
The battle began with the Moldavians luring the main Ottoman forces into a forest that was set on fire, causing some casualties to the attacking Ottoman army in the forest. According to another battle description, the defending Moldavian forces repelled several Ottoman attacks with steady fire from hand-guns. The attacking Turkish Janissaries were forced to crouch on their stomachs instead of charging headlong into the defenders positions. Seeing the imminent defeat of his forces, Mehmed charged with his personal guard against the Moldavians, managing to rally the Janissaries, and turning the tide of the battle. Turkish Janissaries penetrated inside the forest and engaged the defenders in man-to-man fighting.
The Moldavian army was utterly defeated (casualties were very high on both sides), and the chronicles say that the entire battlefield was covered with the bones of the dead, a probable source for the toponym (Valea Albă is Romanian and Akdere Turkish for "The White Valley").
Ștefan cel Mare retreated into the north-western part of Moldavia or even into the Polish Kingdom and began forming another army. The Ottomans were unable to conquer any of the major Moldavian strongholds (Suceava, Neamț, Hotin) and were constantly harassed by small scale Moldavians attacks. Soon they were also confronted with starvation, a situation made worse by an outbreak of the plague, and were driven out of the country, many of then dying while crossing the Danube river. The Sultan returned to Istanbul without considering himself defeated, but also without conquering anything.
Battle of the Cosmin Forest
After the Moldavian loss of Chilia and Cetatea Albă, the Ottoman threat seemed more evident. King John I Albert of Poland was suzerain of Moldavia, and, when Stephen asked him for military assistance, they met, in 1494 at the conference of Levoča, where together with King Ladislaus II of Hungary and Elector Johann Cicero of Brandenburg, they forged plans for an expedition against the Porte. The objective was to recapture Chilia and Cetatea Albă. However, in unexplained circumstances, Ștefan received reports from Hungary that John Albert prepared to place his own brother, the Polish prince Sigismund (later king, as Sigismund I the Old), on the Moldavian throne. By 1497 John Albert managed to gather 80,000 men and was preparing for the expedition when Ștefan invaded Galicia and pillaged it. The plans for the Ottoman invasion were put aside and John Albert went against Moldavia instead.
The campaign started on the wrong foot, with John Albert entering Moldavia at Hotin and – despite sound advice to the contrary – deciding not to take the fortress, but to go straight for the capital city of Suceava. After the abortive siege of Suceava (September 26 – October 16) – with the taking of the recently rebuilt and reinforced fortress nowhere in sight (despite having used heavy siege artillery on its walls), and facing famine, disease, bad weather plus the prospect of coming winter – John Albert was compelled to lift the siege. After some negotiations, the Poles left Suceava on October 19.
John Albert accepted Stephen's conditions for retreat, but later decided to break the arrangement. It was a mistake that Stephen was waiting for all along: on October 26 he ambushed the Poles while they were marching on a narrow road passing through a thickly wooded area known as The Cosmin Forest. Thus, John Albert was unable to deploy his forces, rendering the Polish heavy cavalry completely useless. The several phases of battle lasted for three days, with Stephen routing the invading army, which was forced to flee in disarray, harassed all the way by the forces of the prince. At the same time a Moldavian contingent intercepted on October 29 a hastily assembled Polish relief force and completely annihilated it at Lențești. However, once back in open space, the Poles were able again to take advantage of their heavy cavalry, and that part of the remaining troops which managed to retain a measure of order and discipline succeeded in crossing back into Poland – despite Stephen's last effort to engage the remnants of the king's army in a battle of annihilation when they were trying to ford the Prut river at Cernăuți.
After the failed campaign the Poles no longer threatened Moldova for the rest of Stephen's reign.
Illness and death
In 1462, during the assault of Chilia Nouǎ, Stephen was shot in the leg. The wound never fully healed. In 1486, during the battle of Șcheia, his horse was injured. They both fell and Stephen was trapped under the horse. The incident aggravated his old leg injury. Over time, he summoned to his royal court many doctors, astrologists and other persons, who attempted to heal his wound. Among these were Hermann, "bacalaurio in medicina", astrologist Baptista de Vesentio, Maestro Zoano barbero from Genoa (in 1468), Isaac Beg (in 1473), Don Antonio Branca (skilled in fixing cut noses), Mateo Muriano from Venice (in 1502), and Hieronimo di Cesena from Venice (in 1503).
Towards the end of his life, Stephen suffered from gout, which immobilized his hands and legs. On November 9, 1503, Vladislav, King of Hungary wrote to the Doge of Venice: "The voivode of Moldavia is tormented by an old illness." On June 30, 1504 Stephen's wound was cauterized by the doctors present in Suceava (one of whom was Hieronimo di Cesena from Venice). The operation caused great pain to the old voivode, who died two days later, on the morning of July 2, 1504. He was buried in the Monastery of Putna.
- Two daughters by Maria of Mangup
- Son Bogdan III the One-Eyed by Doamna Maria Voichița
- Son Petru Rareș by Maria Răreșoaia of Hârlău
- Grandson Stephen IV of Moldavia son of Bogdan III
- Grandson John III the Terrible son of Bogdan III
- Granddaughter Ruxandra Lăpușneanu son of Petru Rares
- Great-grandson Bogdan IV of Moldavia son of Ruxandra Lăpușneanu
|Saint Stephen the Great|
|Monarh of Moldavia|
|Venerated in||Romanian Orthodox Church|
|Canonized||July 12, 1992, Bucharest, Romania by Romanian Orthodox Church|
|Major shrine||Putna Monastery|
Stephen the Great is perceived by the Romanian Orthodox Church as a defender of the faith, of the Church, and the whole of Christianity. Stephen's opposition to the Ottoman Empire protected the entirety of Europe from an invasion. After the Battle of Vaslui, Pope Sixtus IV named Stephen "the Champion of Christ" (Athleta Christi). It is said that he built 44 churches and monasteries (see List of churches established by Stephen III of Moldavia), one for each battle that he won (44 out of a total of 48). At the end of the 20th century, the Romanian Orthodox Church decided to canonize Stephen. The canonization was enacted on June 20, 1992 by the Synodic Council of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Stephen is called "Saint Voivode Stephen the Great". His feast day in the Romanian Orthodox calendar is July 2, the day of his death.
14 Princes of Moldova (between 1504-1668) had Stephen the Great as a direct ancestor.
Though it was marked by continual strife, Stephen's long reign brought considerable cultural development; many churches and monasteries were erected by Stephen himself; some of which, including Voroneț and Putna, are now part of UNESCO's World Heritage sites.
Stephen was seen as holy by many Christians, soon after his death. He has been canonized a saint by the Romanian Orthodox Church under the name "The Right-believing Voivode Stephen the Great and the Holy".
Coins and banknotes
The Moldovan leu, established on November 29, 1993, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the creation of the independent republic of Moldova, features Stephen the Great on the front side of all the banknotes.
The Stephen the Great Monument is a prominent monument in Chișinău, opposite the main government building. A monumental equestrian statute of Stephan the Great exists in Iași, in the square in front of the neogothic grand Palace of Culture, while another equestrian statue exists in Suceava, near the medieval citadel.
Many other statues and monuments dedicated to Stephan the Great feature prominently in all the major cities in the region of Moldavia, eastern Romania, the western part of the former Principality of Moldavia, as well as on the site of some of the most important battles that he fought.
Stephen, and his victory at Vaslui, were the subject of a 1975 film, Ștefan cel Mare – Vaslui 1475, by Romanian director Mircea Drăgan.
|Ancestors of Stephen III of Moldavia|
- Putna Monastery
- Voronet Monastery
- Neamț Monastery
- Neamț Citadel
- Borzești Church
- House of Mușat
- Vlad Dracula, cousin of Stephen the Great
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