Stephen III of Moldavia

"Ștefan cel Mare" redirects here. For other uses, see Ștefan cel Mare (disambiguation).
Stephen III the Great

Miniature from the 1473 Gospel at Humor Monastery
Prince of Moldavia
Reign 1457–1504
Predecessor Peter III Aaron
Successor Bogdan III
Born 1433-1440
Died 2 July 1504
Burial Putna Monastery
Spouse Mărușca (?)
Evdochia of Kiev
Maria of Mangup
Maria Voichița of Wallachia
Bogdan III
Petru Rareș
Dynasty Mușat
Father Bogdan II of Moldavia
Mother Maria Oltea
Religion Orthodox

Stephen III of Moldavia, known as Stephen the Great (Romanian: Ștefan cel Mare; pronounced [ˈʃtefan t͡ʃel ˈmare]; 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 was murdered in 1451. Stephen fled to Hungary, and later to Wallachia. With the support of Vlad Dracula, Voivode of Wallachia, he returned to Moldavia and forced Peter III Aaron to seek refuge in Poland in the summer of 1457. Teoctist I, Metropolitan of Moldavia, anointed him prince. Stephen continued to pay a yearly tribute to the Ottoman Empire. He broke into Poland and prevented Casimir IV Jagiellon, King of Poland, from supporting Peter Aaron, but acknowledged Casimir's suzerainty in 1459.

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 besieged the town during the Ottoman invasion of Wallachia in 1462, but he was seriously wounded during the siege. Two years later, he captured the town. He promised support to the leaders of the Three Nations of Transylvania against Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, in 1467. Corvinus invaded Moldavia, but Stephen defeated him in the Battle of Baia. Peter Aaron broke into Moldavia with Hungarian support in December 1470, but Stephen defeated him. Peter Aaron and the boyars who had supported him were executed. He restored the old fortresses and erected new ones, which improved the defence system of Moldavia and strengthened central administration.

The Ottomans' expansion threatened the Moldavian ports in the region of the Black Sea. Stephen stopped paying tribute to the Ottoman sultan in 1473. He launched a series of campaigns against Wallachia to replace the rulers who accepted Ottoman suzerainty with his protégés, but each prince who seized the throne with Stephen's support was soon forced to pay homage to the sultan. Stephen defeated a large Ottoman army in the Battle of Vaslui in 1475. In 1476, the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II, routed him in the Battle of Valea Albă, but the lack of provisions and the outbreak of a plague forced the Ottomans to withdraw from Moldavia. Taking advantage of a truce with Matthias Corvinus, the Ottomans captured Chilia, their Crimean Tatar allies Cetatea Albă (now Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi in Ukraine) in 1483. Corvinus granted two Transylvanian estates to Stephen to compensate him for the loss of the two ports. Stephen paid homage to Casimir IV of Poland who promised to support him to regain Chilia and Cetatea Albă, but Stephen's efforts to capture the two ports ended in failure. From 1486, Stephen again paid a yearly tribute to the Ottomans. During the following years, dozens of stone churches and monasteries were built in Moldavia, which contributed to the development of a specific Moldavian architecture.

Casimir IV's successor, John I Albert, wanted to grant Moldavia to his younger brother, Sigismund, but Stephen's diplomacy prevented him from invading Moldavia for years. John Albert broke into Moldavia in 1497, but Stephen and his Hungarian and Ottoman allies routed the Polish army in the Battle of the Cosmin Forest. Stephen again tried to recapture Chilia and Cetatea Albă, but he had to acknowledge the loss of the two ports to the Ottomans in 1503. During his last years, his son and co-ruler, Bogdan III, played an active role in the government. Stephen's long rule represented a period of stability in the history of Moldavia. Both his subjects and foreigners remembered him as a great ruler already in the 16th century. Modern Romanians regard him as one of their greatest national hero. After the Romanian Orthodox Church canonized him in 1992, he is venerated as Stephen the Great and Saint (Romanian: Ștefan cel Mare și Sfânt).

Early life

Stephen was the son of Bogdan, who was a son of Alexander the Good, Prince of Moldavia.[1] Stephen's mother, Maria-Oltea,[1] was most probably related to the princes of Wallachia, according to historian Radu Florescu.[2] The date of Stephen's birth is unknown.[3] Historians estimate that he was born between 1433 and 1440.[4][5]

The death of Alexander the Good in 1432 gave rise to a succession crisis, lasting for more than two decades.[6][7] Stephen's father seized the throne after defeating one of his relatives with the support of John Hunyadi, Regent-Governor of Hungary, in 1449.[8][6] Stephen was styled voivode in his father's charters, showing that Stephen had been made his father's heir and co-ruler.[9] Bogdan acknowledged the suzerainty of Hunyadi in 1450.[10] Stephen fled to Hungary after Peter III Aaron (who was also Alexander the Good's son) murdered Bogdan in October 1451.[2][11][12] Peter Aaron did homage to Casimir IV, King of Poland and Grand Prince of Lithuania, in 1455.[13] A year later, he agreed to pay a yearly tribute to the Ottoman Empire.[6]

Vlad Dracula (who had lived in Moldavia during Bogdan II's reign) invaded Wallachia and seized the throne with the support of Hunyadi in 1456.[14] Stephen either accompanied Vlad to Wallachia during the military campaign or joined him after Vlad became the ruler of Wallachia.[15] With the assistance of Vlad, Stephen broke into Moldavia at the head of an army of 6,000 strong in the spring of 1457.[16][17] According to the Moldavian chronicles, "men from the Lower Country" (the southern region of Moldavia) joined him.[16][18] The 17th-century Grigore Ureche wrote, Stephen routed Peter Aaron at Doljești on 12 April, but Peter Aaron left Moldavia for Poland only after Stephen inflicted a second defeat on him at Orbic.[12][16]



A coat-of-arms depicting the head of an aurochs with a crescent and a star over it
Coat-of-arms of Moldavia (Putna Monastery)

An assembly of the Wallachian boyars and clergymen acclaimed Stephen the ruler of Moldavia at a meadow near Suceava.[12][19] Teoctist I, Metropolitan of Moldavia, anointed him prince.[12][19] To emphasize the sacral nature of his rule, Stephen styled himself "By the Grace of God, ... Stephen voivode, lord (or hospodar) of the Moldavian lands" already on 13 September 1457.[20]

Stephen continued to pay the yearly tribute to the Ottoman Empire.[19][21] He broke into Poland to prevent Casimir IV from supporting Peter Aaron in 1458.[22] His first military campaign "established his credentials as a military commander of stature", according to historian Jonathan Eagles.[23] However, Stephen wanted to avoid a prolonged conflict with Poland, because the recapture of Chilia (now Kiliya in Ukraine) was his principal aim.[21] Chilia was an important port on the Danube that Peter II of Moldavia had surrendered to Hungary in 1448.[24]

Stephen signed a treaty with Poland on the river Dniester on 4 April 1459.[21][25] He acknowledged the suzerainty of Casimir IV and promised to support Poland against Tatar marauders.[25] Casimir also pledged that he would protect Stephen against his enemies and to forbide Peter Aaron to return to Moldavia.[25][26] Peter Aaron left Poland for Hungary and settled in Székely Land in Transylvania.[19] A year later, Stephen confirmed the privileges of the merchants of Lvov (now Lviv in Ukraine).[27]

Stephen broke into Székely Land more than one times in 1461.[25] Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, decided to support Peter Aaron, giving him shelter in his capital at Buda.[25] 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.[28] The new treaty declared that Casimir was the sole suzerain of Moldavia, prohibiting Stephen to alienate Moldavian territories without Casimir's authorization.[29][30] The treaty also obliged Stephen to recapture the Moldavian territories that had been lost, obviously in reference to Chilia.[29][30]

Written sources evidence that the relationship between Stephen and Vlad Dracula became tense in early 1462.[31] 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.[32] The Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II, invaded Wallachia in June 1462.[33] Mehmed'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".[34] Taking advantage of the presence of the Ottoman fleet at the Danube Delta, Stephen laid siege to Chilia in late June.[34][35] 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".[34][36] During the siege, Stephen was seriously wounded on his left calf.[36] The wound did not healed to the end of his life.[36]

A fortress built of bricks, with two bastions and a tower
The medieval fortress at Cetatea Albă (now Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi in Ukraine)
A church in a rose garden
Putna Monastery, founded in 1469 by Stephen to commemorate the capture of Chilia (now Kiliya in Ukraine)

Stephen again laid siege to Chilia on 24 January 1465.[25][37] The Moldavian army bombarded the fortress for two days, forcing the garrison to surrender on 26 January.[37] The sultan's vassal, Radu the Fair, Voivode of Wallachia, had also been claiming Chilia, thus the capture of the port gave rise to conflicts not only with Hungary, but also with Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire.[38][39][40] In 1465, Stephen peacefully regained the fortress of Hotin (now Khotyn in Ukraine) on the Dniester from the Poles.[25] 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.[41]

At Matthias Corvinus's demand, the Diet of Hungary abolished all previous exemptions relating the tax known as the chamber's profit.[42] The leaders of the Three Nations of Transylvania who regarded the reform as an infringement of their privileges declared on 18 August 1467 that they were ready to fight to defend their liberties.[42] Stephen promised support to them,[25] but they yielded to Corvinus without resistance after the king marched to Transylvania.[43] Corvinus invaded Moldavia and captured Baia, Bacău, Roman and Târgu Neamț.[25] Stephen assembled his army and launched a crushing defeat on the invaders in the Battle of Baia on 15 December.[44][45] 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.[46] A group of boyars rose up against Stephen in the Lower Country,[47] but he had 20 boyars and 40 other landowners captured and executed before the end of the year.[46]

Stephen again swore loyalty to Casimir IV in the presence of the Polish envoy in Suceava on 28 July 1468.[30] He made raids against Transylvania between 1468 and 1471.[46] Casimir IV came to Lviv in February 1469 to receive Stephen's homage personally, but Stephen did not go to meet him.[48] In the same year, Tatars invaded Moldavia, but Stephen routed them in the Battle of Lipnic near the Dniester.[46][49] To strengthen the defence system along the river, Stephen decided to erect new fortresses at Old Orhei and Soroca around the same time.[50][49] A Wallachian army laid siege to Chilia, but it could not force the Moldavian garrison to surrender.[46]

Matthias Corvinus sent peace proposals to Stephen.[48] 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.[48] Stephen invaded Wallachia and destroyed Brăila and Târgul de Floci (the two most important Wallachian centers of commerce on the Danube) in February 1470.[46][51] Peter Aaron hired Székely troops and broke into Moldavia in December 1470.[46] Stephen defeated them near Târgu Neamț.[46] Peter Aaron fell into captivity in the battlefield.[46] He and his Moldavian supporters (among them Stephen's vornic and chancellor, Isaia and Alexa) were executed at Stephen's order.[46][52] Radu the Fair invaded Moldavia, but Stephen defeated him at Soci on 7 March 1471.[46][51]

Relationship between Casimir IV and Matthias Corvinus became tense in early 1471.[53] After Stephen failed to support Poland, Casimir IV dispatched an embassy to Moldavia, demanding Stephen to comply with his obligations.[54][48] Stephen met the Polish envoys in Vaslui on 13 July.[48] 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.[48] Stephen sent his envoys to Hungary to start negotiations with Corvinus.[48] He granted commercial privileges to the merchants from the Transylvanian town of Brașov on 3 January 1472.[55]

Wars with the Ottoman Empire

A woman with a crown on her head wearing a decorated heavy coat
Stephen's second (or third) wife, Maria of Mangup
A corpulent man wearing a turban
The Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed the Conqueror, who defeated Stephen in the Battle of Valea Albă but had to retreat from Moldavia

The Ottomans put pressure on Stephen to abandon Chilia and Cetatea Albă (now Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi in Ukraine) in the early 1470s.[56] Instead of obeying to their demands, Stephen denied to send the yearly tribute to the Sublime Porte in 1473.[46][56] Taking advantage of Mehmed II's war against Uzun Hassan in Anatolia, Stephen invaded Wallachia to replace Radu the Fair with his protégé, Basarab III Laiotă.[57][58] He routed the Wallachian army at Râmnicu Sărat in a battle that lasted for three days from 18 to 20 November.[57][58] Four days later, the Moldavian army captured Bucharest and Stephen placed Basarab on the throne.[58] Radu regained Wallachia with Ottoman support before the end of the year.[46] Basarab again expelled Radu from Wallachia in 1475, but the Ottomans once more assisted him to return.[59] To restore Basarab, Stephen launched a new campaign to Wallachia in October, forcing Radu to flee from the principality.[59]

Mehmed II ordered Hadım Suleiman Pasha, Beylerbey (or governor) of Rumelia, to invade Moldavia.[60] An Ottoman army of about 120,000 strong broke into Moldavia in late 1475.[60] Wallachian troops also joined the Ottomans; Stephen received support from Poland and Hungary.[59][61] Outnumbered by the invaders by three to one, Stephen was forced to retreat.[60][62] He joined battle with Hadım Suleiman Pasha at Podul Înalt (or the High Bridge) near Vaslui on 10 January 1475.[60][63] Before the battle, he had sent his buglers to hide behind the enemy fronts.[60] They suddenly sounded their bugles which caused a panic among the invaders who started to flee from the battlefield.[60] During the next three days, hundreds of Ottoman soldiers were massacred and the survivors retreated from Moldavia.[60]

Stephen's victory in the Battle of Vaslui was "arguably one of the biggest European victories over the Ottomans", according to historian Alexander Mikaberidze.[60] Mara Branković, Mehmed II's stepmother, stated, the Ottomans "had never suffered a greater defeat".[57] 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.[57] 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".[59][62][64] Pope Sixtus IV praised him as Verus christiane fidei athleta ("The true defender of the Christian faith").[64] However, neither the pope nor other European powers sent material support to Moldavia.[59][62]

Stephen's brother-in-law, Alexander, seized the Principality of Theodoro in the Crimea at the head of a Moldavian army.[65][66] Stephen also decided to expel his former protégé, Basarab Laiotă, from Wallachia, because Basarab had supported the Ottomans during their invasion of Moldavia.[67] He made an alliance with Matthias Corvinus in July,[66] persuading him to release Basarab's rival, Vlad Dracula, who had been imprisoned in Hungary in 1462.[67] Stephen and Vlad made an agreement to put an end to the conflicts between Moldavia and Wallachia, but Corvinus did not support them to invade Wallachia.[67] The Ottomans occupied the Principality of Theodoro and the Genoese colonies in the Crimea before the end of 1475.[65] Stephen ordered the execution of the Ottoman prisoners in Moldavia to take vengeance for the massacre of Alexander of Theodoro and his Moldavian retainers.[65] Thereafter the Venetians, who had waged war against the Ottomans since 1463, regarded Stephen as their principal ally.[68] With their support, Stephen's envoys tried to persuade the Holy See to finance Stephen's war directly, instead of sending the funds to Matthias Corvinus.[69] The Signoria of Venice emphasized, "No one should fail to understand the extent to which Stephen could influence the evolution of events, one way or another", referring to his preeminent role in the anti-Ottoman alliance.[69]

Mehmed II personally commanded a new invasion against Moldavia in the summer of 1476.[56][62] The Crimean Tatars were the first to broke into Moldavia at the sultan's order, but Stephen routed them.[61][70] He also persuaded the Tatars of the Great Horde to break into the Crimea, forcing the Crimean Tatars to withdraw from Moldavia.[70] The sultan invaded Moldavia in late June 1476.[71][61][70] The Wallachians again supported the Ottomans, while Matthias Corvinus sent an army to assist Stephen.[71] Stephen adopted the scorched earth policy, but he could not avoid joining a pitched battle.[61] He suffered a defeat in the Battle of Valea Albă at Războieni on 26 July.[59][71] He had to seek refuge in Poland, but the Ottomans could not capture the fortresses at Suceava and Neamț.[59] The lack of sufficient provisions and an outbreak of cholera in the Ottoman army forced Mehmed to leave Moldavia, enabling Stephen to return from Poland.[59][72] The Byzantine historian George Sphrantzes concluded that Mehmed II "had suffered more defeats than victories" during the invasion of Moldavia.[73]

With Hungarian support, Stephen and Vlad Dracula invaded Wallachia, forcing Basarab Laiotă to flee in November 1476.[73] Stephen returned to Moldavia, but left Moldavian troops behind to protect Vlad.[74] The Ottomans invaded Wallachia to restore Basarab Laiotă.[75] Dracula and his Moldavian retainers were massacred before 10 January 1477.[75] Stephen again broke into Wallachia and replaced Basarab Laiotă with Basarab IV the Younger.[59]

Stephen sent his envoys to Rome and Venice to persuade the Christian powers to continue the war against the Ottomans.[76] He and Venice also wanted to involve the Great Horde in the anti-Ottoman coalition, but the Poles were unwilling to allow the Tatars to cross their territories.[76] To strengthen his international position, Stephen signed a new treaty with Poland on 22 January 1479, promising Casimir IV to personally swear fealty to him in Colomeea (now Kolomyia in Ukraine) on the day that the king specified six months ahead.[77] Venice and the Ottoman Empire made peace in the same month; Hungary and Poland in April.[77] After Basarab the Younger paid homage to the sultan, Stephen had to seek reconciliation with the Ottomans.[77] He promised to again pay a yearly tribute in May 1480.[77] Taking advantage of the peace, Stephen made preparations to a new confrontation with the Ottoman Empire.[77] He again invaded Wallachia and replaced Basarab the Younger with one Mircea, but Basarab regained Wallachia with Ottoman support.[78] The Wallachians and their Ottoman allies broke into Moldavia in the spring of 1481.[78]

A corpulent woman wearing a crown
Stephen's third (or fourth) wife, Maria Voichița

Mehmed II died in 1481.[79] The conflict between his two sons, Bayezid II and Cem, enabled Stephen to broke into Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire in June.[80] He routed Basarab the Younger at Râmnicu Vâlcea and placed Vlad Dracula's half-brother,[81] Vlad the Monk, on the throne.[78] After Basarab the Younger returned with Ottoman support, Stephen made a last attempt to secure his influence in Wallachia.[78] He again led his army to Wallachia and defeated Basarab the Younger, who died in the battle.[78] Although Vlad the Monk was restored, he was soon forced to accept the sultan's suzerainty.[78]

...since [Stephen the Great] has ruled in Moldavia he has not liked any ruler of Wallachia. He did not wish to live with [Radu the Fair], nor with [Basarab Laiotă], nor with me. I do not know who can live with him.
Basarab the Younger's 1481 letter to the councilors of Sibiu[82]

Matthias Corvinus signed a truce for five years with Bayezid II in October 1483.[83][84] The truce covered Moldavia, with the exception of the Moldavian ports.[78] Bayezid invaded Moldavia and captured Chilia on 14 July 1484.[85] His vassal, Meñli I Giray, also broke into Moldavia and seized Cetatea Albă on 3 August.[85] The capture of the two ports secured the Ottomans' control of the Black Sea.[85][71] Bayezid left Moldavia only after Stephen personally came to pay homage to him.[85] The loss of Chilia and Cetatea Albă put an end to the Moldavian control of important trading routes.[86] To compensate Stephen, Corvinus granted him the domains of Ciceu and Cetatea de Baltă in Transylvania, but was unwilling to break his truce with the Ottomans.[78][77]

To secure Casimir IV's support, Stephen went to Colomea and swore fealty to him on 12 September 1485.[87][88] The ceremony took place in a tent, but its curtains were drawn aside at the moment when Stephen was on his knees before Casimir.[89] Three days later, Casimir IV pledged that he would not acknowledge the capture of Chilia and Cetatea Albă by the Ottomans without Stephen's consent.[90] During Stephen's visit in Poland, the Ottomans broke into Moldavia and sacked Suceava.[91] They also tried to place a pretender, Peter Hronoda, on the throne.[89][92] Stephen returned from Poland and defeated the invaders with Polish assistance at Catlabuga Lake in November.[93] He again defeated the Ottomans at Șcheia in March 1486, but could not recapture Chilia and Cetatea Albă.[93] In 1486, he signed a three-year truce with the Ottomans, promising to pay the yearly tribute to the sultan.[91][94]

Conflicts with Poland

Poland concluded a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire in 1489, acknowledging the loss of Chilia and Cetatea Albă without Stephen's consent.[27] Although the treaty confirmed Moldavia's frontiers, Stephen regarded it as breach of his 1485 agreement with Casimir IV.[27][91] Instead of accepting the treaty, he acknowledged the suzerainty of Matthias Corvinus.[91] However, Corvinus died unexpectedly on 6 April 1490.[95] Four candidates laid claim to Hungary, including Maximilian of Habsburg, and Casimir IV's two sons, Vladislaus and John Albert.[96]

An elderly man wearing a crown, with a crowned woman on his left, surrounded by two young men and two young women
Casimir IV Jagiellon and his family

Stephen supported Maximilian of Habsburg.[97] Maximilian urged the Three Nations of Transylvania to cooperate with Stephen against his opponents.[76] Most Hungarian lords and prelates supported Vladislaus who was crowned king on 21 September.[98] Maximilian had to withdraw from Hungary in November, but John Albert (who was his father's heir in Poland) did not abandon his claim.[99] To prevent a personal union between Hungary and Poland under John Albert, Stephen decided to support Vladislaus.[91][100] He broke into Poland and captured Pocuția (now Pokuttya in Ukraine).[97][100] Stephen also supported Vladislaus against the Ottomans[91] who broke into Hungary several times after Corvinus's death.[101] In exchange, Vladislaus confirmed Stephen's possession of Ciceu and Cetatea de Baltă in Transylvania.[102] John Albert was forced to acknowledge his brother as the lawful king in late 1491.[91]

Casimir IV died on 7 June 1492.[103] One of his younger sons, Alexander, succeeded him in Lithuania, and John Albert was elected king of Poland in late August.[103] Ivan III of Russia, Grand Prince of Moscow, broke into Lithuania to expand his authority over the principalities along the borderlands.[104] During the following years, Ivan and Stephen coordinated their diplomacy which enabled Ivan to persuade Alexander to acknowledge the loss of significant territories to Moscow in February 1494.[105][106]

Ottoman pressure brought about a rapprochement between Hungary and Poland.[91][107] Vladislaus met his four brothers (including John Albert and Sigismund) in Lőcse (now Levoča in Slovakia) in April 1494.[102][108] They planned a crusade against the Ottoman Empire.[108] However, John Albert wanted to strengthen Polish suzerainty over Moldavia and to dethrone Stephen in favor of Sigismund, which gave rise new tensions between Poland and Hungary.[109][110] Shortly after the conference, John Albert decided to launch a campaign against the Ottomans to recapture Chilia and Cetatea Albă.[105][109] Fearing that the subjugation of Moldavia was John Albert's actual purpose, Stephen made several attempts to prevent his campaign.[111] With Ivan III's support, he persuaded Alexander of Lithuania not to associate himself with John Albert.[112] The sultan sent 600 janissaries to Moldavia at Stephen's request.[113]

The Polish army marched across the Dniester into Moldavia on 7 August 1497.[113] Stephen sent his chancellor, Isaac, to John Albert, requesting the withdrawal of the Polish forces, but John Albert had Isaac imprisoned.[113] The Poles laid siege to Suceava on 24 September.[114] Before long, a plague broke out in the Polish camp.[113] Vladislaus of Hungary sent an army of 12,000 strong to Moldavia, forcing John Albert to lift the siege on 19 October.[115][116] The Poles started to march towards Poland, but Stephen ambushed and routed them at a ravine in Bukovina on 25 and 26 October.[114][115] To carry further his victory, Stephen made several raids into Poland during the following months.[117][118] He made a peace with John Albert only after Poland and Hungary concluded a new alliance against the Ottoman Empire.[117]

Last years

The tomb of Stephen the Great and his wife, Maria Voichița at Putna Monastery.

Stephen's health declined during his last years, which strengthened the position of his son and co-ruler, Bogdan.[119] Bogdan actively participated in the negotiations with Poland about a peace treaty.[119] The treaty, that Stephen ratified in Hârlău in 1499, put an end to Polish suzerainty over Moldavia.[82][116]

Stephen again stopped paying tribute to the Ottomans in 1500.[117] He broke into the Ottoman Empire, but he could not recapture Chilia or Cetatea Albǎ.[88][117] The Tatars of the Great Horde invaded southern Moldavia, but Stephen defeated them with the support of the Crimean Tatars in 1502.[120] He also sent reinforcements to Hungary to fight against the Ottomans.[120] Hungary and the Ottoman Empire concluded a new peace treaty on 22 February 1503, which also included Moldavia.[107][120] Thereafter Stephen again paid a yearly tribute to the Ottomans.[120]

Towards the end of his life, Stephen suffered from gout, which immobilized his hands and legs. A Venetian doctor, Matteo Muriano, came to Moldavia to treat him.[119] On 9 November 1503, Vladislaus of Hungary mentioned in a letter to the Doge of Venice, that Stephen was "tormented by an old illness." The boyars, who opposed Bogdan, rebelled, but Stephen supressed them.[121] The Venetian Hieronimo di Cesena and other doctors who were present in Suceava cauterized Stephen's wound on 30 June 1504. The operation caused great pain to him before he died on the morning of 2 July.[120] On his deathbed, he had urged Bogdan to continue to pay the tribute to the sultan.[116] Stephen was buried in the Monastery of Putna.[82]


A woman named Mărușca (or Mărica) gave most probably birth to Stephen's first-born son, Alexandru, according to historian Jonathan Eagles.[122] Historian Ioan-Aurel Pop writes, Mărușca was Stephen's first wife,[94] but Eagles says, the legitimacy of the marriage of Stephen and Mărușca is uncertain.[122] Alexandru either died in childhood, or survived infancy and became his father's co-ruler.[123]

If Stephen fathered two sons named Alexandru, the one who was made his co-ruler was born to Evdochia of Kiev, whom Stephen married in 1463.[123] She was closely related both to Ivan III, Grand Prince of Moscow, and to Casimir IV of Poland and Lithuania.[123] Stephen's charter of grant to the Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos refers to two children of Stephen and Evdochia, Alexandru and Olena.[124] Olena was the wife of Ivan, the eldest son of Ivan III of Moscow.[125] According to Eagles, Evdochia was most probably also the mother of Stephen's two sons, Bogdan and Peter, who died in 1479 and 1480, respectively.[123]

Stephen's second (or third) wife, Maria of Mangup, was a member of the family of the princes of Theodoro.[65] The marriage took place in 1472 and she died in 1477.[126] Stephen third (or fourth) wife, Maria Voichița, was the daughter of Radu the Fair, Voivode of Wallachia.[94][65] She was the mother of Stephen's successor, Bogdan, and a daughter named Maria Cneajna.[127] Stephen also fathered an illegitimate son, Petru Rareș, who became prince of Moldavia in 1527.[128][120]



A helmet with an auroch on a coat-of-arms depicting crosses, flowers and other symbols
Stephen's coat-of-arms

Stephen reigned for more than 47 years,[82] which was "in itself an outsanding achievement in the context of the political and territorial fragility of the Romanian principalities".[129] His diplomacy evidence that he was one of the "most astute politicians" of Europe in the 15th century.[82] His diplomatic skills enabled him to play off the Ottoman Empire, Poland and Hungary against each other.[82] According to historian Keith Hitchins, Stephen "paid tribute to the Ottomans, but only when it was advantageous ....; he did homage to King Casimir of Poland as his suzerain when that seemed wise ...; and he resorted to arms when other means failed."[130]

Stephen supressed the rebellious boyars and strengthened central government, often applying cruel punishments, including impalement.[131] The 17th-century Moldavian historian, Miron Costin emphasized, that Stephen was "irascible, cruel, prone to shed innocent blood, often at meals he would order people to be put to death, without legal sentence".[132] He restored Crown lands that had been lost during the civil war that followed Alexander the Good's rule either through buying or confiscating them.[47][133] On the other hand, he granted much landed property to the Church and to the lesser noblemen who were the main supporters of the central government.[134] His itinerant lifestyle enabled him to personally hold court in whole Moldavia, which contributed to the development of his authority.[135]

When talking with Matteo Muriano in 1502, Stephen mentioned that he had fought 36 battles, only losing two of them.[136] For the enemy forces mostly outnumbered his army, Stephen had to adopt the tactics of "asymmetric warfare".[137] He practised guerilla warfare against invaders, avoiding to challange them to open battle before they were weakened due to the lack of supplies or sickness.[138] During his invasions, however, he moved quickly and forced his enemies to do battle.[138] To strengthen the defence of his country, he had the fortresses built during Alexander the Good's rule at Hotin, Chilia, Cetatea Albă, Suceava and Târgu Neamț restored.[139] He also erected a number of castles, including the new fortresses at Roman and Thigina.[50] The pârcălabi (or commanders) of the fortresses were invested with administrative and judiciary powers and became important pillars of royal administration.[140]

Stephen hired mercenaries to man his forts, which diminished the military role of the boyars' retinues.[141] He also set up a personal guard of 3,000 strong.[141] To strengthen the defence of Moldavia, he obliged the peasants to wear arms.[142] Moldavian chronicles recorded that if "he found a peasant lacking arrows, bow or sword, or coming to the army without spurs for the horse, he mercilessly put that man to death."[142] The military reforms increased Moldavia military potential, enabling Stephen to muster an army of more than 40,000 strong.[143]

Cultural development

A building with a tower
St. George Church at Hârlău

The years following Stephen's wars against the Ottoman Empire can be described as a "period of great architectural upsurge".[144] More than a dozen stone churches were erected at Stephen's initiative after 1487.[144] The wealthiest boyars followed him.[145] Stephen also supported the development of the monastic communities.[145] For instance, the Voroneț Monastery was built in 1488 and the monastery at Tazlău in 1496 and 1497.[145]

The architecture of the new churches evidence that a "genuine school of local architects" developed during Stephen's reign.[145][146] They borrowed components of Byzantine and Gothic architecture and mixed it with elements of local tradition.[145] Painted walls and towers with a base forming a star were the most featuring elements of Stephen's churches.[147] Stephen also financed the building of churches in Transylvania and Wallachia, which contributed to the spread of the "Moldavian architecture" over the boundaries of the principality.[145]

Stephen commissioned votive paintings and carved tomb stones for many of his ancestors' and other relatives' graves.[148] The tomb room of the Putna Monastery was built to be the royal necropolis of Stephen's family.[149] Stephen's own tombstone was decorated with acanthus leaves (a motif adopted from Byzantine art) which became the featuring decorative element of Moldavian art during the following century.[150] The tombstones of Stephen's two sons who died during his lifetime, Bogdan and Peter, display the coat-of-arms of the House of Mușat.[151]

Stephen also contributed the development of historiography in Moldavia.[152] After he ordered the collection of the old records of the history of the principality, at least three chronicles were written during his reign (some of them being completed only after his death).[152][153] The Chronicle of Bistrița (which was allegedly the oldest chronicle) narrated the history of Moldavia from 1359 to 1506.[152][153] The two versions of the Chronicle of Putna covered the period from 1359 to 1526, but it also wrote of the history of the Putna Monastery.[152][153]

National hero

Stephen received the sobriquet "Great" shortly after his death.[154] Sigismund I of Poland and Lithuania referred to him as "that great Stephen" in 1534.[155] The Polish historian Martin Cromer mentioned him as the "great prince of the Moldavians".[154][156] In the mid-17th-century, Grigore Ureche described him as "a benefactor and a leader" when writing of his funeral.[155][157] Local folklore regarded him as a protector of peasantry against noblemen and foreign invaders.[158] For centuries, free peasants claimed that they inherited their landed property from their ancestors to whom it had been granted by Stephen for their bravery in the battles.[159]

The 19th-century Wallachian scholar, Nicolae Bălcescu, was the first Romanian historian to describe Stephen as a national hero whose rule was an important step towards the unification of the lands inhabited by Romanians.[160] In 1881, Mihai Eminescu dedicated a doina (a poem written in the style of traditional Romanian songs) to Stephen, calling upon him to leave his grave to again lead his people.[160][161] His statue was raised in Iași in the 1880s.[162]

Stephen III on the Moldovan 1 leu banknote

Anniversaries of the most important events of Stephen's life have been officially celebrated since the 1870s.[162] On the 400th anniversary of his death in 1904, Nicolae Iorga published Stephen's biography.[163] Iorga emphasized that Stephen's victories were to be attributed to the "true unity of the whole people" during his reign.[164] His book has been republished several times, including on the 500th anniversary of Stephen's death.[165] On the same anniversary, Stephen was presented as a symbol of "national identity, independence and inter-ethnic harmony" in the Republic of Moldova.[163]

Historian Jonathan Eagles notes, "Stephen is an ever-present icon" in both Romania and Moldova: "statues of his image abound; politicians cite him as an exemplar; schools and a university bear his name; villages and the main thoroughfares of towns and cities are named after him; there is a Ștefan cel Mare metro station in central Bucharest; and his crowned head has adorned every banknote in the post-Soviet Moldovan republic".[166] According to a 1999 opinion poll, more than 13% of the participant regarded Stephen the Great the most important personality who had "influenced the destiny of the Romanians for the better".[167] Seven years later, he was voted "the greatest Romanian of all time" in a programme of the Romanian Television.[162]

Holy ruler

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
Feast July 2

Ureche stated that Stephen had been regarded as a saint soon after his funeral, although "not on account of his soul ... for he was a man with sins ... but on account of the great deeds he accomplished".[157] Ureche's report was repeated by Miron Costin.[157] The abbot of Putna Monastery, Artimon Bortnic, initiated the investigation of the tomb room of the monastery in 1851, referring to important shrines in Russia and Moldavia.[168] In 1857 (a year after Stephen's tomb was opened), the priest and journalist Iraclie Porumbescu already wrote of the "holy bones of Putna".[169] However, Stephen the Great was ignored when the Romanian Orthodox Church canonized the first Romanian saints in the 1950s.[170]

Teoctist, Patriarch of All Romania, canonized Stephen along with 12 other saints at St. Spiridon's Cathedral in Bucharest on 21 June 1992.[171] On this occasion, the patriarch emphasized that Stephen had been a defender of Christianity and protector of his people.[153] He also underlined that Stephen had built churches during his reign.[153] Stephen's feast day is July 2 (the day of his death) in the calendar of the Romanian Orthodox Church. On his first feast after his canonization, a new ceremony was held to celebrate Stephen the Great and Saint in Putna.[171] 15,000 people (including the President of Romania at the time, Ion Iliescu, and two ministers) attended the event.[172] Patriarch Teoctist noted that "God has brought us together under the same skies, just as Stephen rallied us under the same flag in the past."[172]

See also


  1. 1 2 Păun 2016, p. 131.
  2. 1 2 Florescu & McNally 1989, p. 66.
  3. Treptow & Popa 1996, p. 190.
  4. Brezianu & Spânu 2007, p. 338.
  5. Eagles 2014, p. 220.
  6. 1 2 3 Pop 2005, p. 256.
  7. Bolovan et al. 1997, p. 103.
  8. Ciobanu 1991, p. 34.
  9. Eagles 2014, pp. 31, 212.
  10. Ciobanu 1991, pp. 34-35.
  11. Treptow 2000, p. 59.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Eagles 2014, p. 212.
  13. Ciobanu 1991, p. 40.
  14. Treptow 2000, pp. 58, 61.
  15. Treptow 2000, p. 98.
  16. 1 2 3 Treptow 2000, p. 99.
  17. Eagles 2014, p. 34.
  18. Papacostea 1996, p. 5.
  19. 1 2 3 4 Pop 2005, p. 266.
  20. Eagles 2014, pp. 32-33.
  21. 1 2 3 Ciobanu 1991, p. 43.
  22. Eagles 2014, pp. 38, 213.
  23. Eagles 2014, p. 38.
  24. Ciobanu 1991, p. 33.
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Eagles 2014, p. 213.
  26. Papacostea 1996, p. 35.
  27. 1 2 3 Pop 2005, p. 270.
  28. Ciobanu 1991, pp. 43-44.
  29. 1 2 Treptow 2000, p. 139.
  30. 1 2 3 Ciobanu 1991, p. 44.
  31. Treptow 2000, p. 136.
  32. Treptow 2000, p. 138.
  33. Treptow 2000, p. 130.
  34. 1 2 3 Treptow 2000, p. 140.
  35. Florescu & McNally 1989, pp. 148-149.
  36. 1 2 3 Florescu & McNally 1989, p. 149.
  37. 1 2 Treptow 2000, p. 142.
  38. Papacostea 1996, p. 38.
  39. Ciobanu 1991, pp. 44-45.
  40. Pop 2005, pp. 266-267.
  41. Eagles 2014, p. 94.
  42. 1 2 Kubinyi 2008, p. 82.
  43. Kubinyi 2008, p. 83.
  44. Engel 2001, p. 302.
  45. Eagles 2014, pp. 213-214.
  46. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Eagles 2014, p. 214.
  47. 1 2 Papacostea 1996, p. 25.
  48. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Ciobanu 1991, p. 46.
  49. 1 2 Brezianu & Spânu 2007, p. xxvi.
  50. 1 2 Eagles 2014, p. 42.
  51. 1 2 Papacostea 1996, p. 42.
  52. Papacostea 1996, pp. 24-25.
  53. Ciobanu 1991, pp. 46-47.
  54. Papacostea 1996, p. 41.
  55. Ciobanu 1991, p. 47.
  56. 1 2 3 Pop 2005, p. 267.
  57. 1 2 3 4 Freely 2009.
  58. 1 2 3 Florescu & McNally 1989, p. 165.
  59. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Eagles 2014, p. 215.
  60. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Mikaberidze 2011, p. 914.
  61. 1 2 3 4 Shaw 1976, p. 68.
  62. 1 2 3 4 Bolovan et al. 1997, p. 116.
  63. Papacostea 1996, p. 48.
  64. 1 2 Cândea 2004, p. 141.
  65. 1 2 3 4 5 Eagles 2014, p. 46.
  66. 1 2 Papacostea 1996, p. 50.
  67. 1 2 3 Treptow 2000, p. 160.
  68. Papacostea 1996, pp. 44, 52.
  69. 1 2 Papacostea 1996, p. 52.
  70. 1 2 3 Papacostea 1996, p. 53.
  71. 1 2 3 4 Pop 2005, p. 268.
  72. Bolovan et al. 1997, p. 116-117.
  73. 1 2 Treptow 2000, p. 162.
  74. Florescu & McNally 1989, pp. 173-175.
  75. 1 2 Treptow 2000, p. 166.
  76. 1 2 3 Papacostea 1996, p. 57.
  77. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Ciobanu 1991, p. 49.
  78. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Eagles 2014, p. 216.
  79. Shaw 1976, p. 70.
  80. Shaw 1976, pp. 70, 72.
  81. Florescu & McNally 1989, p. 45.
  82. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Bolovan et al. 1997, p. 118.
  83. Kubinyi 2008, p. 112.
  84. Engel 2001, p. 308.
  85. 1 2 3 4 Shaw 1976, p. 73.
  86. Eagles 2014, p. 59.
  87. Ciobanu 1991, pp. 49-50.
  88. 1 2 Papacostea 1996, p. 59.
  89. 1 2 Eagles 2014, p. 60.
  90. Ciobanu 1991, p. 50.
  91. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Eagles 2014, p. 217.
  92. Papacostea 1996, pp. 24, 59.
  93. 1 2 Eagles 2014, pp. 60, 217.
  94. 1 2 3 Pop 2005, p. 269.
  95. Engel 2001, p. 317.
  96. Engel 2001, p. 345.
  97. 1 2 Eagles 2014, p. 61.
  98. Engel 2001, pp. 345-347.
  99. Engel 2001, p. 347.
  100. 1 2 Papacostea 1996, p. 63.
  101. Engel 2001, pp. 359-360.
  102. 1 2 Eagles 2014, p. 62.
  103. 1 2 Frost 2015, p. 327.
  104. Frost 2015, pp. 283-284.
  105. 1 2 Papacostea 1996, p. 64.
  106. Frost 2015, p. 285.
  107. 1 2 Engel 2001, p. 360.
  108. 1 2 Nowakowska 2007, p. 46.
  109. 1 2 Frost 2015, p. 281.
  110. Eagles 2014, pp. 217-218.
  111. Papacostea 1996, pp. 65-66.
  112. Papacostea 1996, p. 66.
  113. 1 2 3 4 Nowakowska 2004, p. 132.
  114. 1 2 Grabarczyk 2010, p. 281.
  115. 1 2 Nowakowska 2004, p. 133.
  116. 1 2 3 Eagles 2014, p. 63.
  117. 1 2 3 4 Eagles 2014, p. 218.
  118. Papacostea 1996, p. 67.
  119. 1 2 3 Eagles 2014, p. 50.
  120. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Eagles 2014, p. 219.
  121. Eagles 2014, pp. 50, 219.
  122. 1 2 Eagles 2014, p. 44.
  123. 1 2 3 4 Eagles 2014, p. 45.
  124. Păun 2016, pp. 130-131.
  125. Brezianu & Spânu 2007, p. 339.
  126. Eagles 2014, pp. 45-46.
  127. Eagles 2014, pp. 50, 103.
  128. Treptow & Popa 1996, p. 160.
  129. Eagles 2014, p. 33.
  130. Hitchins 2014, p. 29.
  131. Eagles 2014, pp. 36-37.
  132. Eagles 2014, p. 36.
  133. Eagles 2014, pp. 38-39.
  134. Papacostea 1996, pp. 25-26.
  135. Eagles 2014, p. 39.
  136. Eagles 2014, p. 51.
  137. Eagles 2014, p. 54.
  138. 1 2 Eagles 2014, p. 52.
  139. Eagles 2014, pp. 41-42.
  140. Papacostea 1996, p. 27.
  141. 1 2 Eagles 2014, p. 41.
  142. 1 2 Papacostea 1996, p. 28.
  143. Papacostea 1996, pp. 28-29.
  144. 1 2 Papacostea 1996, pp. 70-71.
  145. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Papacostea 1996, p. 71.
  146. Pop 2005, p. 296.
  147. Pop 2005, pp. 296-297.
  148. Eagles 2014, p. 185.
  149. Eagles 2014, p. 99.
  150. Eagles 2014, p. 106.
  151. Eagles 2014, pp. 102-103.
  152. 1 2 3 4 Pop 2005, p. 292.
  153. 1 2 3 4 5 Eagles 2014, p. 78.
  154. 1 2 Eagles 2014, p. 75.
  155. 1 2 Papacostea 1996, p. 76.
  156. Papacostea 1996, pp. 76-77.
  157. 1 2 3 Eagles 2014, p. 77.
  158. Papacostea 1996, p. 78.
  159. Papacostea 1996, p. 79.
  160. 1 2 Eagles 2014, p. 80.
  161. Papacostea 1996, p. 80.
  162. 1 2 3 Eagles 2014, p. 83.
  163. 1 2 Eagles 2014, p. 89.
  164. Boia 2001, p. 60.
  165. Eagles 2014, pp. 88-89.
  166. Eagles 2014, p. 1.
  167. Boia 2001, p. 17.
  168. Eagles 2014, p. 110.
  169. Eagles 2014, p. 93.
  170. Boia 2001, p. 73.
  171. 1 2 Ramet 1998, p. 195.
  172. 1 2 Ramet 1998, p. 196.


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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ștefan III cel Mare.
Preceded by
Petru Aron
Prince/Voivode of Moldavia
Succeeded by
Bogdan III cel Orb
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