Stephen the Great, ruler of Moldavia managed what others thought it was impossible. When he took power in 1457, Moldavia was surrounded by powerful and dangerous enemies (Ottoman Empire, Poland, Hungary), always ready to attack. In this very difficult political context, Stephen the Great managed through his victories and diplomatic ability to keep its reign for 47 years.
Although much has been written about Stephen the Great, a representative figure in Romanian history, there are many myths and historical facts lesser known, even distorted, about bravery, about life and especially about the work of the founding of cities, churches, and monasteries.
1. What did the Moldavian leader look like?
The real face of Stephen the Great is little known today. There are many fantastic reproductions. According to experts, many of these portraits are inspired by late paintings on the walls of monasteries or churches. Until the late nineteenth century, many academics imagined that Stephen the Great was an ascetic leader, with a large mustache and beard and a crown of Byzantine inspiration.
Only one book from that period with the image of the voivode survived. The manuscript can be found today at the Humor monastery.
In this book the Moldavian ruler appears as a small man, thin, pious, dressed in a royal mantle decorated with precious and semiprecious stones, with a crown on his head.
2. He had four wives and two mistresses.
There is the myth that the prince had girlfriends and mistresses in all the provinces of Moldavia, the idea is supported by letters from the royal courts in Iasi, Vaslui, Roman, Bacau etc. In these letters it appears that Stephen the Great, after administrative, political affairs etc in places where stopped, asked for mistresses to be bought in the evening. However, there is nowhere mention that they have been in the prince’s bedroom. In most cases, the stories about the love affairs of the Moldavian leader are simple exaggerations. According to historical sources, we know for sure that he had four wives: Marusca that was married in 1457, Evdochia of Kiev (1463), Mary Mangup (1472) and Maria Voichiţa (1480). Only the first wife was not from a great nation, the rest being made of interest marriages. The prince had only two mistresses appearing in historical sources: Călţun in Braila (married woman and morals) and Harlem Maria, a fisherman. The rest of adventures, which is said to have been in the hundreds, can not be proved.
3. He had 10 children: seven boys and three girls.
Alexander was the first son of Stephen the Great, a child conceived with Marusca. Second wife, Evdochia of Kiev, gave him three children (Elena, Bogdan, Iliaş) – who all died during their father’s life. Maria of Mangup couldn’t offer any son, so he divorced her (the other wives died). With the fourth wife, Maria Voichiţa, he had four children: Bogdan III (the successor to the throne), Bogdan Vlad, Anna and Maria Chiajna. With each of the two mistresses had one son: Mircea and Petru Rares.
4. Of 42 battles in which he fought, he lost five.
Although it was said that Stephen the Great won all the battles, he had five crushing defeats. On September 22, 1462, he lost the siege of Chilia. In July 1476, Sultan Mehmed II routed the Moldavian forces in the battle of Razboieni. After an ottoman siege, Chilia and Cetatea Alba are lost on 9 august, 1484. The Moldavian ruler suffered another great defeat against the ottomans in 1485 when he tried to reconquer Chilia.
5. Founder of cities, churches, and monasteries.
There is a legend that raises a monastery or a church after every battle. In reality, he fought in 42 battles and there are 36 churches whose founding is assigned. According to historians, between the years 1457-1487 the ruler of Moldavia has built and repaired fortresses. The construction of monasteries and churches has been a priority in the years 1487-1504, ie the latter part of the reign. Most of them were built on the site of older construction or continuation of existing bays.
6. Putna Monastery was not originally built by Stephen the Great.
It is believed that the monastery was founded by him because he was buried there. In fact, the first ruler, Dragos Voda, built a wooden church at Volovăţ, which he then moved it to Putna. Around this small church, the founder of Moldavia, Bogdan I founded the monastery at Putna. Stephen the Great was the one who restored it and developed it during 1466-1469.
7. Relations with his cousin Vlad the Impaler.
Relations between the two great personalities were influenced by several events. For example, Stephen the Great took power in Moldavia with the military support of Vlad the Impaler.
But in 1462 relations between the two princes are deteriorating rapidly. While Vlad the Impaler was struggling with Ottoman armies led by Mehmed II, Stephen the Great take the opportunity and attacked the city of Chilia, controlled by his cousin`s troops.
Relations between the two were resumed after 1475 when the Moldavian leader has negotiated with the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus to release Vlad Tepes him from the Buda prison.
8. He defeated the Hungarian army led by king Matthias Corvinus.
Believing that Stephen the Great, supported the nobles rebellion in Transylvania, Matthias Corvinus organized a military expedition to punish the Moldavian leader. According to some historians, the Hungarian king managed to raise an army of 40000 soldiers. The figure is hard to believe because when he crushed the nobles rebellion, his army numbered 8000 soldiers. It’s hard to believe that the Hungarian king could mobilize 32000 soldiers in a short time. Royal Hungarian forces entered Moldavia and looted villages.But unfortunately for the king of Hungary, the expedition has ended in disaster. Taking advantage of the element of surprise and knowledge of the terrain, Stephen the Great defeated Hungarian troops at Baia on December 15, 1467.
9. Battle of Vaslui won by Szekler and Polish.
The famous Battle of Vaslui in 1475, attributed exclusively to Moldavians, was, in fact, a war waged with foreign allies. The Turks came with an overwhelming army, approximately 120000 soldiers and lost the battle in Vaslui in front of an army of 40000 people. A huge contribution to winning the battle they had come and the 5000 Szekler as an aid in Southeastern Transylvania. There are historical sources which show that in addition to these forces, there were 2,000 Hungarians, 2,000 knights from Poland and perhaps 1,000 Lithuanians. Stephen the Great put his Allies in the first line of battle in order to protect his own soldiers.
One of the most precious objects from the prince of Moldavia is his sword. The sword was received by Stephen the Great after the Battle of Vaslui from Pope Sixtus VI in recognition of the decisive role of Moldavia in the defense of Christendom. The sword was made of Toledo steel, the best material available in the Middle Ages for the manufacture of weapons. According to legend, the sword was stolen by the Ottomans during the military campaign of Suleiman the Magnificent against Moldova in the year 1538. Since then, Prince`s sword was kept in the Topkapi Palace. Some historians believe that the sword from Topkapi Palace is not the original.
11. Defender of Christianity or just a believer?
Pope Sixtus IV praised Stephen the Great in a letter (January 1477) as “Athleta Christi”. Salutation interpreted as a prince would have been a great defender of Christianity. In fact, Stephen the Great was a simple Christian who defended his country and the papacy has just made a courtesy policy. At that time, Moldavia was not the main gateway of Christianity. The road of the Ottoman armies, towards Central Europe, was passing through Serbia, not Moldavia. The route is determined by the geostrategic position of Moldavia. No Ottoman army ever planned to cross the Danube in Moldova, then cross the Carpathians, to enter in Hungary!
12. Moldavia economy under Stephen the Great and conclusions.
Beyond the military and diplomatic qualities of the leader, Moldavia resistance against invaders mean the mobilization of significant resources. The question is: did Moldavia had these resources?
Moldavia’s population in that period, according to historical sources, was approximately 400,000 inhabitants. The vast majority lived in rural areas. The economy was predominantly agrarian. The country ruled by Stephan had only one advantage, control of important trade routes between East and Central Europe.
The wars waged by Stephen were costly. Of the 47-year reign, 13 years were peaceful. These wars meant not only huge material costs. All economic activity was affected by mobilization for war and enemy raids cause serious damage.
The fact that the invaders were defeated did not mean that they failed to do significant damage to villages in Moldavia.
Due to the lack of historical sources, we can not say with certainty how the Moldavia economy evolved during 1457-1504.
The relationships between Moldavia and the Ottoman Empire deteriorated, but those with Poland and Hungary were strengthened. Overall it can be said that the reign of Stephen had a positive impact on Moldavia.