Stephen the Great

Dafato Team | Sep 23, 2022

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Stephen III (b. 1438-1439, Borzești - d. 2 July 1504, Suceava), nicknamed Stephen the Great or, after his canonization by the Romanian Orthodox Church, Stephen the Great and Holy, was ruler of Moldavia between 1457 and 1504. He was the son of Bogdan II, reigning for 47 years, the longest reign of the medieval period in the Romanian Lands.

Stephen the Great is considered an outstanding personality of Romanian history, endowed with great qualities as a statesman, diplomat and military leader. These qualities enabled him to overcome moments of major crisis, caused either by the military interventions of neighbouring states or by attempts, from within or supported from outside the country, to remove him from the reign. During his reign Moldova reached the peak of its state development, experiencing a long period of internal stability, economic prosperity and social tranquillity.

Internally, he based his regime on a new ruling class made up mainly of people from the small nobility, elevated to dignity on the basis of military merit, loyalty to the lord or close kinship with him. He also greatly supported the development of the Races through the collective expropriation of the Races, especially following the wars and battles fought, which ensured the loyalty of this class, social peace in the country and the human strength to have a mass army - "the great army".

On the foreign front he managed to pursue a realistic policy with two main guidelines: the imposition or support of favourable rulers in the small neighbouring countries - Wallachia and the Crimean Khanate - and a policy of alliances that would not allow any of the large neighbouring countries - the Ottoman Empire, the Kingdom of Poland and the Kingdom of Hungary - to gain a hegemonic position over Moldova. He tried, unsuccessfully, to establish a system of international alliances against the Turks, sending envoys to the Pope of Rome, Venice, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Persia.

Militarily, it pursued two major lines of action. The first was the creation of a permanent system of fortifications on the country's borders - during his time he built or developed the network of fortresses that included the fortresses of Suceava, Neamt, Cracow, Chilia, White Fortress, Tighina, Orhei, Lapusna and Hotin. The second major direction was the creation of a modern army with a permanent, professional and semi-professional component and a mass component, made up of corps of armed rangers, mobilized for major military campaigns.

During his reign he fought more than 40 wars or battles, most of them victorious, the most significant being the victory at Baia over Matthias Corvinus in 1467, the victory at Lipnic against the Tartars in 1469 or the victory at the Battle of Cosmin's Codrii over the Polish king John Albert in 1497. His greatest military success was the crushing victory at the Battle of Vaslui against a powerful Ottoman army led by Suleiman-Pasha - the Beilerb of Romania, on 10 January 1475. Following the loss of this battle, the following year Sultan Mohammed II personally led an expedition to Moldavia which ended with the defeat of the Moldavian army at the Battle of Valea Albă-Războieni.

After 1476, Stephen was forced to accept the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, obtaining very good conditions for Moldova. In return for a modest annual tribute, the country kept its institutions and internal political autonomy intact.

Stephen the Great was a great supporter of culture and the church, founding a large number of monasteries and churches both in Moldavia, Wallachia, Transylvania and Mount Athos. For these merits he was canonized by the Romanian Orthodox Church with the name of Stephen the Great and Holy on 20 June 1992.

He was married three times, to Evdochia - daughter of the Grand Duke of Kiev, Maria of Mangop - of the Byzantine imperial family and Maria Voichița - daughter of Radu the Beautiful, marriages in which seven children were born. From 1497 onwards he associated his son Bogdan III with the throne, who succeeded him. He died on 2 July 1504 and was buried in Putna Monastery.

According to tradition, Stephen the Great was born on his father's estate at Borzești, as the illegitimate son of the future ruler of Moldavia, Bogdan II and Oltei. Bogdan was in turn the illegitimate son of Alexander the Good, and his wife Oltea came from a noble family near Bacau, the two having met while Bogdan was in exile at the court of Vlad the Dragon. The family had three more sons: Ioachim, Ion and Crâstea and two daughters: Maria and Sora.:p. 35

The date of his birth is not known with certainty, the most plausible variants being the years 1438:p. 36 No data are known about Stephen the Great's childhood, he most likely spent it at the family residence.

In the autumn of 1449, his father, Bogdan, supported by a body of troops sent by Iancu de Hunedoara, defeated Alexander II's army at Tămășeni, near the waters of Moldavia, on 12 October 1449 and proclaimed himself ruler. 46 Alexander fled to Transylvania, from where he would try to regain his throne. In turn, Bogdan, after an unsuccessful attempt to win Polish support and protection, turned his diplomatic efforts to Hungary.:p. 47

On February 11, 1450, Bogdan issues a hrisov in the "lower fair" - Roman - recognizing the suzerainty of Iancu de Hunedoara, to whom he promises support and help, in any circumstance, so that in return "our beloved father protects us under his hand and defends us from any of our enemies". At the end of the act, where the witnesses who endorsed that document are listed, the faith of my beloved son, Stefan Voevod, is mentioned immediately after the gentleman. The act represents the first documentary attestation of the future ruler of Moldavia:p. 26 From the mention of his father as associate to the reign, it appears that Stephen was at least eleven years old in 1450, the minimum age imposed by the customs of the time for such a dignity:p. 36

Bogdan was assassinated on 15 October 1451 at Reuseni by his half-brother Peter, another illegitimate son of Alexander the Good, who later reigned under the name of Peter Aaron. The Polish chronicler Jan Długosz recounts the scene thus:

"A certain Peter, who claimed to have a right to the rule of Moldavia and had agreed with Alexander to share everything equally, choosing the occasion when Bogdan, invited to the country, to a brother's uncle of the same Peter, was drunk, on a bad night, arriving with only a hundred Moldavians, deceived the streets of Bogdan and, catching him, cut off his head."

After Bogdan's murder, his family, including the young Stephen, will go into exile in Transylvania and then in Wallachia, after the installation of Vlad the Impaler as ruler.:p. 13 His mother, Oltea will die on November 4, 1465.:p. 71

Stephen the Great was married three times. While his predecessors had tried through marriage and matrimonial alliances to get closer to their Catholic overlords, the kings of Hungary and Poland, Stephen the Great's dynastic marriage policy was different - as historian P. P. Panaitescu notes - all three of his wives were Orthodox princesses from neighbouring countries: Evdochia, daughter of Simeon Olelkovich of Kiev, Maria of Paleologii of Mangup in the Crimea, Maria, daughter of Radu the Handsome of Wallachia:p. 25

The marriage to Evdochia took place on July 5, 1463 when, according to Grigore Ureche, they took a lady of great kinship, Evdochiia de la Chiev, sister of Simeon Emperor. But the famous chronicler writes that Evdochiia was the daughter of Simeon Emperor, but not his sister.:p. 36 The marriage lasted only four years. Two sons and a daughter resulted from this marriage. The boys, Bogdan-Vlad born in 1466 and Peter born in 1467, both died young in 1479, a few months apart, and were buried together in the same grave. The daughter, Elena, was to marry the son of Tsar Ivan III of Russia. Evdochia also died in 1467, possibly at the birth of Peter, and was buried in the Mirăuți Church in Suceava:pp. 449-440

On 14 September 1472 Stephen married again, to Mary, of the ruling family of the small Greek Pontic kingdom of Mangop-Theodoro in the Crimea. Isaac, the new lady's brother, bears the title "ruler of Theodoro and all Khazarii," and Mary herself is attributed with multiple royal descent:pp. 585-587 The couple had no children. The marriage was one of convenience and political interest, which lasted as long as that interest existed.

"In 1475, however, after the month of July, in which Caffa was taken by the Turks, Mangopul came under their dominion, Stephen the Great having no interest in keeping the heiress of that lost dominion as his wife, separated himself from the Comnenian offspring and took to the altar the other Mary or Vochita, daughter of Radu Voda.":p. 398

Maria would live a little longer after the divorce, on December 19, 1477, as Grigore Ureche notes, the Lady Maria who was from Mangop was buried at Putna Monastery:p. 36

In 1475, after his divorce from Maria of Mangop, Stephen was married to Lady Voichița, daughter of Rad the Voda.:p. 48. The marriage was to last until the death of the lord, Maria Voichița surviving him for another seven years. She died in 1511 and was buried in Putna Monastery. Their marriage produced two children, a son, the future prince Bogdan III, and a daughter, Maria, who died in 1518 and was buried in Putna Monastery.:pp. 398-401

Stephen also had a number of concubines, the best known being Maria Rareș of Hârlău, mother of the future Mr. Petru Rareș.:p. 399 Another possible illegitimate son, whose mother is not known, was the future Mr. Stephen Lăcustă.:p. 280

Stephen the Great died on July 2, 1504 from an old wound and was buried in Putna Monastery.

Describing the appearance, character and personality traits of Stephen the Great is a difficult undertaking, given that no internal documentary sources from the period have been preserved, and many of the external ones are based on oral accounts, more or less credible, and interpreted according to the local cultural context and the interests that the country in question had towards Moldova. Some of his contemporary writings are clearly apologetic in nature, full of words of praise and most probably composed out of a clear desire to flatter Stephen in order to gain some advantage. Other characterisations, written after his death, took up their ideas in a selective way, in an attempt to create an idealised hero, which would serve as a model for the awakening or cultivation of a national consciousness among Romanians. "There are, however, also characterizations coming from different spaces and eras that repeatedly attribute to him the same attributes, which means that they were truly his own":p.. 449

On the basis of the portraits in the votive paintings of the churches he built and the few preserved written sources, it can be said that Stephen was a man of medium to short height (probably under 160 cm by the standards of the time).

"Man not of great stature" but probably with a very windy body, with a round full face, broad forehead, blue eyes, long blond hair left in a backcomb, mustache also blond and, at some stages of life, a shadow of a beard. The wound on his left ankle must have made him, at least in recent years, limp.":p. 519

From the preserved accounts, it can be deduced that Stephen the Great had many traits typical of a choleric temperament, but as he grew older he managed to control a number of negative manifestations typical of this character, such as emotional instability, fits of rage or anger, recklessness, etc.

"If you look into Stephen's character, you can see from the beginning that he was overcome with great impetuosity. He couldn't stand a moment without doing something. And since the work of that time was mainly in the field of war, we see him taking up more daring than thoughtful rebellions." :p. 408

Referring to Stephen's character, the Hungarian chronicler Nicolaus Isthuanffius (Miklós Istvánffy) portrayed him as "wavering in faith and fickle", where the remark about faithlessness referred to Stephen's alleged violation of his oath of suzerainty to the King of Hungary.:p. 457 In turn, King Sigismund I of Poland, characterized him as follows: "Stephen was by nature shrewd, cunning, fickle, brave and big-hearted, for which he was called, by the young men, a cunning fox." And a document in the Venetian state archives concluded that "he was in death as in life, terrible and prudent":p. 417

The historian A.D. Xenopol summarized the personality of the prince, emphasizing that Stephen the Great reflected in him the ordinary character of his time. He was religious and cruel at the same time, two qualities that never excluded each other, although the Christian religion recommends gentleness as its supreme virtue. Many testimonies have been preserved about the way in which both of these qualities were manifested. The large number of places of worship built, as well as the church paintings and books of worship with which they were endowed, bear witness to their pious and devout character. Episodes of cruelty, sometimes extreme, also occurred during his long reign: the burning of the city of Braila, the murder of Tartar soldiers, the murder without trial of several noblemen, including two of his brothers-in-law, etc. Although this type of act was often the 'normal' way in which Christian or Muslim sovereigns of the time exercised their right of life and death over their subjects, their ignorance of certain customs concerning the protection of the noncombatant population, the protection of soldiers or the right to trial was condemned by society, even if it was justified by dynastic, political or military necessity. :passim The Hungarian chronicler Nicolaus Isthuanffius, referring to Stephen said that he was proud and the unusual cruelty of his nature erased some of the fame and glory of his deeds:p. 457

Most of these excesses are recorded in the first part of his reign, when his youthful recklessness led him to sacrifice the precious friendship of Vlad the Impaler, to provoke King Matthias Corvinus, to attack Wallachia, which had fallen under Turkish rule. 415

At the beginning of April 1457, Stephen entered Moldavia, heading towards Suceava along the Siret valley. He was accompanied by an army of about six thousand men, of whom a corps of a thousand from the mountains provided by Vlad the Impaler, and the rest Moldovans from the Low Country:p. 59

Peter Aron was surprised by this action, managing to hastily gather an army with which he attacked Stephen at Doljești on the Siret on 12 April. Peter Aron was defeated and left the battlefield. He attempted a new resistance at Orbic on 14 April, on Maundy Thursday 1457, but was again defeated and forced into exile in Poland:p. 54

"In the year as it is reckoned from the birth of Christ 1457, in the month of April, in the great week before Easter, came Stefan Voda, son of Bogdan Voda, with a small host. And Aron Voda came upon them at a place or water called Hreasca, at Doljești. So Stefan Voda drove Aron Voda out of the country and became a ruler himself by silence":p. 59

There have been several variations on the exact location of the battle over the years. Most historians (Nicolae Iorga, Constantin C. Giurescu, Ilie Minea Minea, etc.) have proposed the locality of Doljești, near Roman, as the site of the battle, based on the accounts of the Moldavian chronicles. A. D. Xenopol, starting from a version of Grigore Ureche's letopise, assumed that the battle took place at Joldești, in the Botoșani county:p. 13 The most plausible seems to be that of Alexandru I. Gonța, who identifies as the place of the battle the locality of Dolhești, on the valley of the river Șomuzul Mare, starting from the toponym mentioned in the German chronicle - Dolschecht, but taking into account that this village belongs to his sister, married to Șendrea, the future doorkeeper of Suceva.

After winning the battles and driving out Peter Aaron, Stephen will hold a great public coronation ceremony at a place called Direptate in the Siret valley.

"Stephen the Voda decided to gather the nobles of the country, both great and small, and another small court, together with Metropolitan Theoctistu and many monks, to the place called the Direptatea, and they asked them all: Is it lawful for all of them to be lords? They all cried out with one voice: "May you reign for many years from God". And so they all dismissed him as ruler and made him ruler, Metropolitan Theoctistu. And from that moment, Stephen the Voda took the flag of Moldavia and brought it to the see of Suceava":p. 35

Strengthening the political and social base

Stephen the Great's domestic policy throughout his reign was mainly aimed at consolidating his central power and ensuring social peace. In this respect, the main lines of action were: repopulation of the country through the granting of land and privileges to the rustic, the creation of a new aristocratic class (the small nobility) on the basis of military meritocracy, the strengthening of military power and the country's defence capacity, reconciliation with the old nobility families and the recall of those who had gone into exile, ensuring the loyalty of the lord's council - by increasing the number of military rulers (pârcălabii) and introducing a significant number of members of his family. :pp. 16-17

In an attempt to find a political counterweight to the great landed gentry, Stephen showed constant concern for the development of the small landed gentry (courtiers and servants) and the free peasantry. The large property, granted to the boyars, was legally a 'feud', encumbered by the holder's obligation to perform military service with his men in return for the lord's guarantee of land possessions. In contrast, the small estate, although it did not enjoy any guarantee from the lord, was also free of military constraints, being an allodial one.:p. 48

For this reason, until Stephen's accession to the throne, free peasants were not obliged to do military service, because the land they owned was not received from the lord. Stephen was to radically reform the system of feudal relations by forcing the free peasantry to perform military service, thus giving them an important political function in the life of the state. The use of the peasantry in the army was an important blow to the privileged situation of the large landed gentry, the only ones to have a monopoly on military duties. When Stephen involved other social elements in the defence of the country, who performed military service without receiving immunities and privileges in return, the importance of the large Bohemians as the social base of the country was essentially diminished.:pp. 112-114

The power of Stefan Voda was in his "court", in this army of the country, we could say in the men-at-arms he had planted all over the country. For this was the most significant political act, which clarifies the power and policy of the great prince. He was a great settler of hosts. All the "waste places", that is to say, without an owner, were rightfully the property of the lord, and the lord colonized them with his own settlers. These formed the lord's unchallenged power, within and without.:p. 16

This is also confirmed by the large number of "place in the wilderness" charters in different regions of the country, mainly in the border regions.

The relationship with the great nobility

His relationship with the great nobility was generally peaceful, characterised by authoritarian rule, with few manifestations of disobedience or rebellion on the part of the nobility. The relationship evolved over time as the lord's central authority strengthened. Thus, in the early years of his reign, Stephen sought to keep the power of the boyars in check by maintaining privileges, pardoning those who had served Peter Aaron, and sending pardon books and recalling fugitive boyars, led by the boyar Mihu.:p. 74

Stephen also changed the noble hierarchy, creating immediately under the ruler a level of local administration leaders, the "pârcălabii" (county rulers), to whom he granted enlarged powers. In order to consolidate his power and ensure his control over them, he entrusted these positions of great responsibility only to his relatives and the closest of the nobles. As a sign of their importance, the squires were always placed before the court rulers, with the exception of the grand vornic.:p. 109

In the same idea Stephen ensured a great stability in the positions of the great rulers, many remaining in the same position for a large number of years, such as: the great backbursar Câlnău - eighteen years, the great treasurer Iuga - twenty-one years or the great logothec Tăutu - more than thirty years. This also ensured great stability to the country's administration:p. 109

As a result of these measures, Stephen had to face only two noble conspiracies in the forty-seven years of his reign, that of 1471 - when three great noblemen were beheaded, led by his brother-in-law, the great vornic Isaia, and that organized in 1504 - two days before his death, aimed at removing his son Bogdan from the throne, which ended identically with the murder of the heads of the conspiracy.

Creating the new ruling elite

Moldova's transport infrastructure during Stephen the Great's reign was poorly developed, with no roads built or maintained by the authorities.

"The roads were simple tracks of tracks, along certain valleys or in certain directions, which experience had shown to be more suitable for communication between two lands or localities. Their condition, as everywhere else in those days, was very bad, for they were either covered with a thick layer of dust, or veritable quagmires with deep potholes.":p. 154

River crossings were usually made across fords, and if they were too deep, over drawbridges. Fixed bridges were made of wood over larger rivers or of stone over streams. The main fords over the great rivers were at Verișcani and Reuseni on the Siret, Țuțora and Cernăuți on the Prut, Vadul Jorii on the Nistru and Bătinești on the Putna. There were bridges at Târgul Siret, on the Siret, Cernăuți, on the Prut and Roman, on the Moldova.:p. 155


The main sources of revenue for the reign were the income from monopolies and customs duties. The lord had a monopoly on the mining and trading of salt and silver, as well as a monopoly on the trade in fish, wax and precious furs. Customs houses were located on the main trade routes. The customs system comprised external customs posts on the border and internal customs posts. Import customs were paid only at Suceava and export customs at the external customs posts at Chernivtsi (for the Kingdom of Poland), Chilia (for the Ottoman Empire), White Citadel (for the Kingdom of Crimea), Adjud (for the Kingdom of Hungary) and Putna (Wallachia). In addition, there were internal customs offices where a transit tax was paid, at Lăpușna, Roman, Bacău, Vaslui, Bârlad and Tecuci.:p. 72

As secondary sources of income were the rents collected from house owners and workshops in the towns, fines and court fees (tretina - the third part of the work judged) and the income of the villages and the manor houses. The lord also became the rightful owner of estates left without an heir as well as those confiscated from landlords convicted of "hiclenie" (treason).:pp. 71-72

Stephen the Great was one of the few rulers of Moldavia who minted his own currency - gros moldovenesc, which was also a way of asserting sovereignty. The coins were made of silver, with a diameter of 13 millimetres, stamped with the coat of arms of the country and the inscriptions MONETAMOLDAVIE on the obverse and STEFANVSVOIEVODA on the reverse. The denominations were one and a half gros.:p. 297

The quantity of money supply was, however, small, the minting of coins being determined primarily by political purposes - payment for military services rendered by the nobility or mercenaries - and less for facilitating trade, which was still based on coins issued by more powerful neighbouring states.:p. 353

In Stephen the Great's foreign policy three main periods can be identified, each with specific objectives:p. 7 At the time of Stephen's accession to the throne, the geopolitical context made Moldova the object of the hegemony attempts of its two great neighbours, the kingdoms of Poland and Hungary. Following the period of instability generated by the struggles for the reign between the descendants of Alexander the Good, its position vis-à-vis its two rival neighbours had considerably deteriorated, hence the need for the young prince to conduct a realistic and balanced foreign policy.:p. 516

"Stephen followed a principle from his youth, which was too useful to him in his long and prosperous career. Never two enemies, but always reconciliation with one, while in quarrel with the other." :p. 408

In order to put foreign policy into practice, Stefan will pay particular attention to the development of the institution in charge of this field, the logofence. The great logothete was to become the country's most important ruler. Stephen carefully chose his collaborators in this field, in his long reign the dignity of logothete was fulfilled by only three boyars: Ioan Dobru (8 September 1457-5 February 1468), Toma (28 July 1468-26 August 1474) and Ioan Tăutu (14 Apr. 1475 - 7 Oct. 1503):p. 38. The best known Moldovan diplomats of this period, mentioned for the way they managed the lands entrusted to them by the lord, were the logophone Ioan Tăutu and Ioan Țamblac.

Diplomacy is judged by results, and the results of Stefan's diplomacy are wonderful. In 1462-1465 he fights with the Moors and is at peace with the Turks, Hungarians and Poles; in 1467 he fights with the Hungarians, is fine with the Turks and the Poles intervene on his behalf, protesting at Buda; in 1469-1479 he is at war with the Moors - the Hungarians and Turks do not intervene; 1475-1476 he fights with the Turks - the Poles and Hungarians send him little help; 1477-1480 he fights with the Mounts, helped by the Hungarians; 1481-1487 he fights with the Turks, without Polish and Hungarian intervention; 1497-1499 he fights with the Poles - the Hungarians, Turks and Russians intervene in Stephen's favour. Even with Mengli Ghirei's Tatars he had good relations for a long time:p. 27


The first period, between 1457-1469, is characterized by political and military actions for external recognition and consolidation of the reign. The aim was to strengthen Moldavia's position on the regional stage and to regain the country's freedom of action, which had been severely restricted in the previous decades. Immediately after his accession, there were clashes with the Poles who were harbouring Petru Aron and with whom he was to make peace in 1459. Then followed the attempts to conquer Chilia, the battles of Baia with Matei Corvin, of Lipnic with the Tartars and the attack on Wallachia and the burning of Braila. It was also during this period that he renewed trade privileges for the merchants of Brasov and Lvov and initiated contacts with the monasteries of Mount Athos:p. 516


The second period, between 1470-1486, was the most complicated and difficult of his reign, being the height of the conflict with the Ottoman Empire. One of the first constants of Stephen's foreign policy during this period was to draw Wallachia into the anti-Ottoman coalition. The first episode was the conflict with Radu the Handsome, which took the form of four military campaigns between 1469 and 1473 and ended with Stephen's victory.:p. 522-524 In the same context, Stephen intervened and appointed four rulers in Wallachia: Laiota Basarab, Vlad Tepes, Basarab the Younger and Vlad the Monk, against some of them he had to conduct military campaigns to remove them from the reign, because they betrayed his trust.:pp. 9-10

A second major line of the period's foreign policy was to gain reassurance and eventual support in the anti-Ottoman struggle from its larger neighbours, to this end concluding a 'steadfast and everlasting peace' with Matthias Corvinus in 1475 and swearing an oath of vassalage and allegiance to Casimir IV, King of Poland, at Colomea in 1485. In the same vein are the letters and letters sent to the Pope of Rome and to the rulers of Venice, the best known of which is the letter of Ioan Țamblac of 1477:p. 89

The main objective of foreign policy during this period, however, was to try to ensure Moldova's territorial integrity and independence from the Ottoman Empire.:pp. 151-216

"It so happened that when all the princes subject to the lord (Mehmet II - n.n.) heard that Zucha-Zan (Uzun Hasan, the innkeeper of the Turks - n.n.) had gone into battle against him, they all rejoiced, saying: "Now, Mehmet will be destroyed. What he did to us, God will now do to him...  ". And they rebelled against the Turks... Among them was the lord of Lesser Wallachia... Since his country is small and its inhabitants are few in number, but all brave, sheltering in mountains and valleys, who would dare to approach them? So when he heard that Zucha-Zan had gone to battle against his master, Sultan Mehmet II, Stephen began to hatch plans. Secretly, he put an end to his submission and shook off his burden..." :p. 525

In this respect Stephen renounced the payment of tribute to the Porte in 1473, led two major anti-Ottoman campaigns - those of 1475 and 1476, as well as four other minor campaigns - those for the defence of Chilia and the White Fortress in 1475 and 1484, as well as the battles against the Turkish armies led by Ali Hadambul, the Beilerbey of Rumelia and Malcoci, Pasha of Silistra, in 1485-1486.:pp. 11-13

By the early 1480s, the regional context was beginning to change. Poland was increasingly inclined to cooperate with the Turks, Hungary was giving priority to Central Europe, Wallachia had been brought back under the control of the Porte and the Crimean Khanate had become vassal to the Porte again:p. 539 After the Turkish conquest of Chilia and the White Fortress and in the new European foreign context, Stephen decided in 1487 to make peace with the Ottoman Empire, accepting the resumption of tribute payments in exchange for their guarantee of Moldavia's statehood and independence.

"The year 892 (1487). in the days when Davud-pasha went on an expedition to Arabia, there came a sol from Moldavia with two years' chariots, and went away receiving the answer of peace.":p. 329


After concluding peace with the Ottoman Empire and securing the southern frontier in the latter part of his reign, Stephen focused his foreign policy on resolving the disputed issues on the northern frontier, developing a system of alliances with the Khanate of Moscow (1491), the Khanate of the Crimea and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (1499) to curb Polish influence. After the victory at the Cosmine Coves in 1497 and the military expedition to Galicia in 1498, he made peace with the Kingdom of Poland. His last major diplomatic action was the unsuccessful negotiations with the Poles in 1502-1503 for the restitution of Pocutia:p.. 545-554

When he died, Stephen left the country in a favourable political situation, having concluded peace treaties with all his neighbours. The last foreign policy advice he gave to his son Bogdan III before his death was to maintain peace with the Ottoman Empire, "counting them all stronger than the Turks and wiser.":p. 66

"Nothing since the death of Matthias has disturbed the good ties with the Hungarians. The Turks in the Danube fortresses had gone mad; Mengli-Ghirai, the Inn of the Crâmului, father-in-law of Selim, the Sultan's eldest son, who was staying at Caffa, had forgotten the road to Moldavia. The name of the "Moldavian" was known with honour throughout the world, and the Poles themselves, the enemies of his old age, openly acknowledged what a quiet power went forth from the soul of this man such as is not easily found in another." :p. 266

Military art

The peculiarities of military strategy and art during Stephen's reign derive from the long-term political objective of the Moldavian ruler, that of "defending the establishment of the Moldavian state.":p. 222 The essential feature of Stephen's military actions was that they were aimed at destroying enemy armies and not at territorial conquest."

As the main forms of military action at the strategic level, Stefan used both strategic defensive and strategic offensive, depending on the political objective pursued. The strategic defensive usually consisted of border defence, harassment, decisive battle and pursuit, and was adopted by Stephen in the great campaigns of 1475, 1476, 1497, when he faced enemies far superior in numbers and armaments. The strategic offensive usually had as its main stages the mobilization and secret concentration of forces, the repulsion of opposing covering troops, the decisive battle and the pursuit. It was adopted by Stephen in the campaigns of 1473 and 1481, which aimed to change the pro-Ottoman lords of Wallachia:pp. 101-160

The decisive battle - fought individually or as part of a campaign - was aimed at destroying the enemy's main group of forces and persuading them to give up further military action. In these battles Stephen used mainly force manoeuvre, adapted to the terrain, season and weather conditions, to annihilate the enemy's numerical advantage, as was the case in the battles of Baia and Codrii Cosminului. When conditions were favourable, the enemy was misled by deception, as at Baia, when the town was burned in several places at once, or at Vaslui, when a large part of the Ottoman army was drawn and pinned down in a marshy area.:pp. 101-160

"It is no small thing for the same ruler of a small country to defeat all his neighbours in turn: the Montagnards, Hungarians, Poles, Tatars, Turks. And it is not a question of who knows what provincial armies: Matthew Corvinus, John Albert, Mohammed II raided Moldavia with all the armies of their great lands, and they all returned in shame." :p. 28

Organisation of the army

Moldova's army was a non-permanent one, being mobilized only in case of armed conflict. The armed forces were made up of the 'small army' and the 'large army'. The vast majority of Stephen's military actions were carried out by the "small army", made up of the Bohemian and courtier classes:p. 292

Under feudal law, only landowners were obliged to do military service and go to war whenever called by the lord.:p. 503 The landowners with their companies formed the core of the army. They constituted the most numerous and powerful element. From among them, a separate body was represented by the "courtiers" or "servants", i.e. the boyars who held local or national offices in the administrative system. There were several thousand courtiers and servants. The courtiers served in rotation at court, providing the lord's guard and performing various jobs or services.:pp. 290-308 The other landowners, in the event of war, were grouped by county, under the command of the county's "pârcălab", after which they moved to the place of assembly of the army established by the lord, called "vileag" or "beleag".:p. 110

The "big army" or "country" was mobilized only in exceptional cases of great danger, when practically all the men in combat gear were called under arms. In addition to the "small army", the "big army" included the "rustics", the townspeople, the landless peasants of the manor, manor and monastery villages, the "străjerii" and the horsemen. Stephen mobilized the large army only twice, in the anti-Ottoman campaigns of 1475 and 1476:p. 44

When called to the host, the Russians were also obliged to present themselves for service, if not mounted and armed as braves, at least as circumstances would help them, ready to fight on foot.:p. 178 The townsmen were obliged, in case of war, to arm a number of men at their own expense and place them at the disposal of the lord. A distinct military category was represented by "străjeri" and "călărași", inhabitants of the border villages who guarded the Carpathian and Nistru frontiers respectively:pp.504-510


Stephen the Great's army used all the main categories of weaponry available in Europe in the second half of the 15th century.:p. 45

The weaponry used can be categorised into two broad categories: defensive and offensive weaponry. Defensive armour, intended to protect the fighter, consisted of a shield, chain mail, breastplate and, more rarely, armour. The peasants called to the host wore for protection quilted linen coats, 3-5 centimetres thick, with thick stitching or leather coats.:p. 139

The offensive weaponry consisted of both white weapons and firearms. The white weapons consisted of cutting and thrusting weapons (swords, sabres, daggers, combat knives), throwing and thrusting weapons (spears and spears), striking and cutting weapons (battle axes and hatchets, halberds), striking and thrusting weapons (clubs, clubs, mace) and ranged weapons (bows and crossbows):p. 46

The firearms were portable, of smaller calibre and with long barrels (sânețe, archehuze) and heavy, of large calibre, with short barrels, carried on carts or towed (bombards and cannons):p. 144 Regarding the number of firearms, only a series of vague mentions have been preserved: "in buona copia bombarde" (in 1475), "quantita d'artegliaria", "very many smaller and larger cannons", "il y avoit de bonnes batteris". The only exact figure refers to the battle of the High Bridge, where 20 cannons are mentioned and seven shots are fired from each piece:p. 152

The armament of the Moldovan army was mainly suitable for close combat. Weapons intended for ranged combat allowed the execution of only a few isolated shots, up to about 9oo meters (with firearms and crossbows), as well as an effective but short-range fight with bullets and arrows, over a distance of about 200 meters, in front of and to the flanks of the combat device.:p. 154

The white armament was mostly manufactured locally, in the country, given the necessity that even the great army should be properly armed.:p. 155 As Jan Duglosz pointed out, Stephen, if he caught a peasant without arrows, bow and sword, or if he did not come to the host with spurs, would mercilessly condemn him to loss of head. :pp. 179

The more sophisticated white weapons as well as firearms were procured from imports. The armaments of the neighbours, with the exception of the Tatars, were generally more powerful (defensive - in Hungarians and Poles, artillery - in Turks, Poles and Hungarians) and more numerous in crossbows and firearms than those of the Moldovans:p. 155

The fortification system

Stephen the Great paid particular attention to the creation of a permanent fortification system as a central element in his strategy to defend the country. At that time, fortresses played a major political and military role, ensuring the owner's control of adjacent territories, but also often playing a decisive role in winning campaigns and battles. The resistance of the fortresses of Neamt, Suceava and Hotin led to the retreat of Mohammed II in 1476, and the resistance of Suceava in 1497 led to the retreat of the Polish king John Albert:p. 28

Stefan designed the system of fortresses with three main objectives: the defence of the borders - especially at the fords of the Dniester, the surveillance of the inland crossings and the defence of the capital, Suceava. When he came to the throne in Moldavia, there were three walled fortresses - those of Suceava, Neamt and Hotin, and one earth and wooden fortress - that of Roman.:pp. 509-521 During his reign, Stephen conquered the walled fortresses of Chilia and the White Fortress (1462) and the earth and wooden fortress of Crăciuna (1482). He also built the new walled fortresses of Chilia (1479) and Roman (1483), as well as the earth and wooden fortresses of Orhei (1470) and Soroca (1499).:pp. 9-17

Fortresses were usually located in dominant positions with good observation and surveillance. Because of the lay of the land, sieges were often difficult and the garrison, even a very small one, could hold out for a long time. As a sign of their military and political importance, Suceava's gatekeeper also served as hatman (leader of the army) and the chief retainers of the large fortresses occupied the first positions in the Sfatul Domnesc (the lord's council).:pp. 128-130

General aspects

The most widespread and accepted estimate of the number of armed conflicts ("battles") in which Stephen the Great participated is 36. The figure is based on the confession of the Moldavian ruler to the Venetian physician Matteo Muriano in 1502: "I am surrounded by enemies on all sides and have fought 36 battles since I have been lord of this country, of which I have been victorious in 34 and lost 2". In a detailed analysis, the historian Alexandru Boldur further identifies four other armed incursions in which Stephen did not participate, these being led by other commanders, appointed by the lord.:p. 326

A synthetic classification of the types of armed conflicts in which the Moldovan army participated under the leadership of Stephen the Great is presented in the table below:pp. 7-19

The four military actions that were not led by Stephen himself were: the incursion from Transylvania, under the command of Pop (1469), the battle of Lentești against the Masovians who came to the aid of the Poles, under the leadership of Boldur (1497), the battle of Cernăuți (1497) and the attack of Boldur on Chilia and the White Fortress (1500).:p. 326

The great battles

The Battle of Baia took place on the night of the 14th

The campaign began on 19 November 1467, with the passage of the Hungarian army, numbering about 40,000 soldiers, through the Oituz pass, followed by the siege and destruction of the towns of Targu Trotuș, Bacău, Roman and Targu Neamț. On 7 December the Hungarian army reached Baia:p. 120

Given the imminent danger of the enemy attacking the country's capital, Suceava, Stefan decides to execute a decisive surprise attack on the Hungarian troops stationed in Baia. Moldovan forces of about 12,000 men attacked the town on the night of 14

Although from a military point of view the battle ended indecisively, with both sides claiming victory, the Battle of Baia was a great political victory for Stephen, who consolidated his reign, putting an end, through harsh measures, to the opposition of part of the great nobility, while significantly increasing his prestige abroad.:p. 100

"Its objectives - the replacement of Stephen from the throne, the installation of a new ruler in Suceava, bringing Moldavia into the sphere of influence of the Hungarian kingdom - could not be achieved, which amounted to a major defeat for the Hungarian king." :p. 100

The Battle of Codrii Cosminului took place between 26-30 October 1497, the main battle taking place in Codrii Cosminului, a wooded area about 100 km north of Suceava, on the territory of the present-day communes of Voloca pe Derelui and Valea Cosminului in the Chernivtsi region, Ukraine. The battle was between the Moldavian army under Stephen the Great and the army of the Polish-Lithuanian Union under King John I Albert.:pp. 129-134

The Polish king entered the territory of Moldavia under the pretext of an anti-Ottoman action aimed at liberating the fortresses of Chilia and the White Fortress from Ottoman rule. The hidden aim of the expedition was to install his brother Sigismund on the throne of Moldavia and to remove Moldavia from the influence of the Hungarian Kingdom:p. 268

The reign of Stephen the Great was also the peak of artistic creation in medieval Moldavia in terms of cultural and spiritual achievements. The elements of art and civilization preserved from this period reflect the existing technical and material possibilities, the world view of medieval man, as well as the various external influences, manifested especially in the field of architecture.:p. 699 From the artistic creations that have survived, Stephen presents himself both as a traditionalist, a continuator of the Byzantine heritage, and as a Renaissance prince, animated by a strong spirit of renewal:p. 255

"Stephen inherits from his ancestors first of all respect and admiration for everything that represented the tradition of the Byzantine conception in the idea of the reign of divine right, pomp and court ceremonial, from the anointing as ruler to the funeral, the religious conception and organization of the Church, legislation, culture and art."


Only elements of ecclesiastical (churches and monasteries) and military (fortresses) architecture have been preserved from the time of Stephen the Great. Although oral tradition, taken up by many written sources, attributes to Stephen the construction of a church after each of the battles he fought, from the Pisans preserved from his time, he is attested as the founder of 21 churches, of which two are unknown. These are: Putna (1469), Milișăuți-Bădeuți (1487), Pătrăuți (1487), Sfântul Ilie-Suceava (1488), Voroneț (1488), Vaslui (1490), Iași (1492), Hârlău (1492), Borzești (1494), Huși (1495), Dorohoi (1495), Popăuți (1496), Valea Albă (1496), Tazlău (1497), Neamț (1497), Piatra Neamț (1498), Volovăț (1502), Dobrovăț (1504), Reuseni (1504). In the churches of Râmnicu Sărat (1704 pisanie) and Scânteia (1846 pisanie), the lord appears as the founder but the date of the initial construction is not mentioned.

Besides these, tradition also attributes to him the construction of a number of churches, but there are no documents to prove this fact: Scheia, near Roman, Florești, near Vaslui, Cotnari, Ștefănești (Botoșani county), Căpriana monastery, Cetatea Albă, Cetatea Chilia, as well as parish churches in Hotin and Neamț. In Transylvania, the churches of Vad, on the Someș and Feleacu, near Cluj, are attributed to him.

The churches built in the time of Stephen the Great were generally designed in the "triconc" architectural style, of Byzantine-Balkan origin, with the interior space divided, according to the Orthodox ordinances, into altar, nave and pronaos. At Putna and in several other churches a gropniță (or "tomb chamber") was added, and at the church dedicated to the "Ascension of the Lord" in the Neamt monastery there is an exonartex - a closed porch at the entrance. In addition to these, elements belonging to other styles are beginning to appear: some of the Stefanian churches have elements specific to Gothic architecture, such as buttresses and ogives, some churches have an exterior decoration (arched friezes, ocnits, chiselled discs). At the same time, some churches were decorated with interior frescoes: Putna, Pătrăuți, Voroneț, Sfântul Ilie - Suceava, Popăuți, Bălinești

"The combination of Byzantine-Balkan art, specific to Orthodoxy, with elements of Gothic art, with certain elements of local folk art, gave rise to a new architectural style, the Moldovan style."

Written culture

The large number of churches and monasteries founded during the reign of Stephen the Great led to a significant increase in the demand for books needed for the divine service. For this purpose, a number of scriptoria were established in addition to the main monasteries, in addition to the only workshop of its kind, established by Alexander the Good at the Neamt monastery.

The most important was the scriptorium of Putna Monastery, established in 1466, by the transfer from Neamt of the abbot Ioasaf, together with other monks specialized in the art of calligraphy and illumination, trained at the school of Gavril Uric.:pp. 205-206 The names of about ten calligraphers and miniaturists who worked at Putna Monastery during the reign of Stephen the Great are known: :p. 206 Nicodemus, Evrasius, Cassian, Chiriac, Basil and James - from the monastery of Neamt, Paladie, Spiridon, Philip and Paisie - trained at Putna. Of the goldsmiths the best known were Antony, Stancius and Gligorie, who, in addition to objects of worship, also made book windows.

The most important manuscript books produced in the Stephanic period were the Tetraevangels, sumptuous works, calligraphed on parchment sheets, with a rich repertoire of decorative elements specific to the genre: writing in semi-ochre, in black ink frequently alternating with chinovar and gold ink. To date, seven examples have been preserved in various places in Europe: Paladie's Tetraevangel (1489), the Tetraevangels of the Neamt monastery executed by Teodor Marieșescu in 1491 (Tetraevangel of Putna, calligraphed and illuminated by the monk Philip in 1502 (anonymous Tetraevangel of Stephen the Great and Bogdan III, worked in 1504-1507 in Putna; Tetraevangel for the church of Hârlău in 1504 (Cetinje). Some of these were exhibited at international exhibitions in Paris (1925), Brussels (1935), Bucharest (1957), Athens (1964), etc.:pp. 206-207

They are distinguished by the exceptional quality of the materials used: very fine and resistant parchment or watermarked paper, made of cloth or silk, of superior quality, imported from Western Europe:p. 209

In addition to these, a significant number of other books of worship were printed - minia, triods, penticostare, clocks, psalters, etc., as well as secular books such as medical treatises in Latin, books of calculations and astronomical data, pascalii for tens and hundreds of years, etc. :pp. 206-208 An Imnologhion was also printed at Putna, a book of ecclesiastical chants on notes written by protopsalter Eustatius, the head of the monastery's musical school. :p. 206

Of great importance was the appearance of the book Syntagma of Matthew Vlastares, calligraphed by Ghervasie in Neamt and the grammarian Damian in Iasi, a book which also contained numerous rules of secular law (punishments and sanctions for heresy, theft, murder, beatings, complicity, bigamy, incest, adultery, rape, abortion, violation of rules of hygiene, diet, fasting, rules relating to property, etc.). This work led to the gradual replacement of traditional customary law by written, unitary legal law, contributing to the centralisation and state consolidation of Moldova.


The vast majority of the historical reference works on this subject, show practically a consensus in considering Stephen the Great as the initiator of Moldovan historiography and the inspirer of a specific and original historiographical style, which left its mark on the way Moldovan chronicles and letopyses will be written in the following centuries:31-35

The following texts dealing with the history of Moldavia in the 14th-15th centuries have been preserved to date: the anonymous Letopise of Moldavia, the Letopise of Putna No. I, the Letopise of Putna No. II, the Romanian translation of the Letopise of Putna, the Short Chronicle of Moldavia, the Moldavian-German Chronicle, the Moldavian-Polish Chronicle, the Serbo-Moldovan Chronicle and the Moldavian-Russian Chronicle. To these should be added Grigore Ureche's Letopisețul Țării Moldovei, written in the first half of the 17th century, in Romanian, using as original source of documentation a lost internal letopiseț, written in Romanian and attributed to Eustratie logofătul.:p. 220

Stephen took the initiative to start writing the history of his reign most probably between 1473 and 1486. After 1473, when Stephen the Great intervened for the first time to install one of his protégés on the throne of Wallachia, the political and military commitment of Moldavia against the Ottoman Empire became complete, making it necessary to write such a history in order to justify, from an ideological and historical point of view, the new policy of the Moldavian prince. The first chronicle written in Moldavia - the Slav-Romanian Letopyses - had an official, courtly character, beginning to be completed in the period 1473-1486, in the royal chancellery, being reworked and completed until the end of 1496.:p. 227

Stephen the Great imposed a sober and concise historiographical style, which can be seen both in the texts of the chronicles of his time and in the content of the inscriptions on the tombstones that he added to the tombs of his ancestors or in the cathedrals of the churches. He is particularly imitative of the anecdotal style of the chronographs - "flowery" and prolix - used in the Slavonic lepto-lexes of the monastic chroniclers, especially Macarius and Azariah.:p. 217

Art of decorations

The art of decoration during the reign of Stephen the Great is illustrated by two broad categories: precious metalwork and embroidery. The precious metal objects made by local craftsmen present a synthesis of technical procedures of both Byzantine and Western influence, combining iconographic elements from both cultures and thus creating original works, specific to Romanian art. The Byzantine tradition exemplified by the filigree rippets - two, now in Patmos, originally donated on 30 July 6996 (1488) to the Zografu monastery, and two others, dated 14 January 7005 (1497) executed by order of Stephen the Great in the Putna monastery and now in the National Museum of Romanian History and the other in the Putna museum:209

Stephen the Great establishes the most important medieval embroidery workshop in the Romanian countries at Putna Monastery, where advanced materials and techniques were used, such as working with gold and silver thread, with expensive silks and precious stones.:p. 4 By the sumptuousness of the materials used, as well as by the beauty of the figures adorning them, by the balance of the composition and the harmony and distribution of colours, embroidery represents one of the most representative artistic creations of the age of Stephen the Great:209

The medieval embroidery of Stephen's time combines local traditions with Byzantine and oriental ones, the main objects made being those used for religious worship: epitaphs, airs, pocroves, dvere, zavese, temple veils, pristine, tetrapod and tomb coverings, epitaphs, rucaviettes, scapulars, orisons, beadwork, etc.:192

The most representative work of embroidery, in terms of historical and artistic value, is the Covering of Mary of Mangop. In a state of deterioration, it underwent a complex restoration process in the early 2000s, at the end of which it was exhibited at the Vatican in the exhibition "Stephen the Great and Holy - Bridge between the West and the East" in September 2004:212

More recent research has brought to light numerous imperial titles and terms applied to rulers in various sources (chronicles, manuscript notes, inscriptions, letters, dedications, etc.). In his court chronicle - the oldest surviving Slavonic Moldovan chronicle - Stephen the Great is usually referred to as a prince and lord (gospodinß), but sometimes also as an emperor (in Slavonic, carß).


  1. Stephen the Great
  2. Ștefan cel Mare
  3. ^ a b Păun 2016, p. 131.
  4. ^ a b c Iliescu 2006, p. 79.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Demciuc 2004, p. 4.
  6. ^ a b Florescu & McNally 1989, p. 66.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Sacerdoțeanu 1969, p. 38.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Grigore Ureche, Letopisețul Țării Moldovei, Editura Litera Internațional, Chișinău, 1997
  9. ^ Constantin C. Giurescu, Istoria românilor din cele mai vechi timpuri până la moartea lui Alexandru cel Bun (1432), Fundația Regală pentru Literatură și Artă, București, 1946, p. 530
  10. Αλλού και ως Στέφανος Δ', βλ. Μεγάλη Ελληνική Εγκυκλοπαίδεια, τόμος ΚΒ’ και Peter F. Sugar, Η νοτιοανατολική Ευρώπη κάτω από την οθωμανική κυριαρχία (1354-1804), τόμος Β', εκδόσεις Σμίλη.
  11. Peter F. Sugar "Η νοτιοανατολική Ευρώπη κάτω από την οθωμανική κυριαρχία (1354-1804), Τόμος Β', σελ. 10-11, εκδόσεις Σμίλη 1994
  12. «Η τέχνη της νωπογραφίας: οι ρουμανικές αγιογραφημένες εκκλησίες (στα αγγλικά)». Αρχειοθετήθηκε από το πρωτότυπο στις 15 Ιουνίου 2001. Ανακτήθηκε στις 15 Ιουνίου 2001.
  13. Περιοδικό Ιστορικές Σελίδες τχ 9, σελ. 51
  15. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Bokor József (szerk.). Moldva, A Pallas nagy lexikona. Budapest: Arcanum FolioNET Kft. (1998). ISBN 963-85923-2-X. Hozzáférés ideje: 2007. január 11.

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