by Luis Alberto Alonso Clavero
In this essay I'd like to show how the figure of the Stephen III,
Voevod of Moldavia (1457-1504) is regarded by Romanian and Hungarian
historians. Versions differ greatly depending on what side of
the Carpathians history - the one but not only - has been written.
From Zaragoza, and with some help, I could only find information
to reflect on these two versions. It would have been interesting
knowing the Polish and especially the Turkish version. The policy
of the small state was always a game of influences of the bigger
surrounding countries, that is Hungary, Poland, and the Ottoman
empire. Apart from these three countries, in the time of Stephen
III there were also relations with Russia, Crimean Tartars, Venice
& Genoa. There were even diplomatic exchanges with Rome mostly
concerning the Turkish menace.
The tragedy of Central Europe. Laszlo Gorgenyi.
Esteban el Grande, Principe de Moldavia. Serban Papacostean
Russian travellers to Constantinople.
Dictionary of the middle ages. Downey Fairfax
Genova, un impero sul mare. Enrico Basso
In my opinion, the Hungarian text is the least objective.
Papacostean: Many nice references which make a nice story. Thirty
years after his death, Segismund, King of Poland, wrote about
him as "Stephanus ille magno". A chronicler of Ivan
III, Kniaz of Moscow, dead a year later speaks about the friendship
with that great voevod of the Moldavians. In a chronicle of Moldavia,
written over 150 years after his death it is said that for the
people of Moldavia he was simply, the Great. Among peasants he
became something short of mythological hero, the invincible prince,
Saint Stephen the voevod. I think that the reason of his popularity,
apart from the military success, is that most of his army were
peasants, ordinary people.
Gorgenyi: Recently promoted by Romanian historians to the rank
of "cel Mare" (The Great) Stephen is the only voevod
mentioned in the Kinder Hilgemann with a short remark. "He
played his neighbors off against one another" (Personally,
I can't disagree totally about that) The Great was a puny man,
measuring a mere 5 feet four inches tall including a high spiked
crown he used to wear to create the illusion of a higher stature"
Gorgenyi: He presents Stephen as a man showing territorial ambitions
at the expense of Poland in Pokutia, a region he annexed to Moldavia
after some success in the battle of Dumbrava. True, Pokutia was
subject to claim of both Poland and Moldavia, but there is more.
It was mostly received as means of payment for the help received.
At that time a battle of influence took place in naming a successor
to the throne of Hungary after the sudden death of king Matthias
Corvinius in 1490. There were three candidates: The emperor Maximilian
I of Habsburg, John Albert, supposed heir to the Polish throne,
and his brother Vladislav Jagelons, king of Bohemia.
Papacostean. Stephen helped the best candidate according to his
interests. Maximilian recommended privileged classes in Transylvania
under the auspices of Stephen, who would be declared representative
on his behalf. On the other hand, a possible union between Hungary
and Poland could be too risky, so he chose helping Vladislav.
That way, Stephen took military actions in the south of Poland.
In effect the situation put him in contact with the powers opposed
to Poland and Lithuania: Moscow and the Khanate of Crimea. In
1499 a Polish campaign against Poland finished with a Moldavian
victory and recognition for the first time of a relation in terms
of equality between the two countries.
Gorgenyi: Gorgenyi largely speaks about these ancient Hungarian
settlers in Moldavia - remaining from the year 895. The time when
Hungarians moved to the Danube Basin. For what I read, these razesi
where independent from the authority of Moldavian Voevod. They
were under the rule of the King of Hungary. The ambitious Stephen
wanted to expropriate the razesi lands for his benefit provoking
the anger of King Matthias Corvinius. In 1467, the centralising
policy of the King of Hungary in Transylvania had the effect of
an upraise of privileged classes who saw their independence diminished.
Stephen backed the rebels. In the same year the Hungarian army
entered Moldavia in order to restore the Hungarian influence.
Both armies faced each other at the battle of Baia, that of course
is described as a success for both sides. But the Hungarian army
could not reach Suceava. It seems that Moldavia got rid of Hungarian
influence. In the following years Hungary was at war with Bohemia.
In that too busy involved with matters in Central Europe to think
about the east of the Carpathians.
Papacostean: He does not mention the razesi, only the big boyars
(I understand the razesi were among them) and the confrontation
he had for many years trying to reduce their power. Before, and
more seriously after the campaign of Matthias Corvinius, there
was an important boyar rebellion seriously punished. Eliminating
them, Stephen enlarged the power of the voevod against nobility
(by large land purchases and concessions). Placing them among
little boyars close to the prince, at the base of the army, among
participants of the principal council and in the orthodox church,
one of the pillars of the voevodal power. Of course there is more.
Stephen supported the rebellion in Transylvania as a preventive
measure to avoid or at least delay a confrontation with Hungary.
This confrontation was expected after restoring the city of Chilia
to Moldavian hands (Chilia was very important port and way out
of Moldavia to the Black sea and the Danube). At first one intended
to take Chilia with the help of a Turkish fleet. Finally, the
city was taken in 1465 by co-operation with Poland, as part of
a treaty between Poland and the Ottomans. That was previous to
the Ottoman campaign against Wallachia and it allowed Moldavia
to recover the lost territories. This treaty enabled Moldavia
to escape from under Hungarian influence, getting closer to Poland.
One of the most interesting parts of the story, is the question
of what was happening at that time in the Black sea. According
to Gorgenyi it was Hungarian military assistance that saved Moldavia
repeatedly from Turkish slavery. It was like that in 1475 at Vaszlo
(Vaslui) and again in 1497. The kings of Hungary provided a line
of fortresses which protected the eastern borders of Hungary as
a last refuge used during the boyars' revolts and the Turkish
campaigns. Gorgenyi also says that promoters of Stephen to the
rank of "cel Mare" remained silent about Hungarian help.
The main reason for the support of Moldavia was keeping buffer
zones for Hungary against the Ottoman empire and Crimean Tartars.
Besides, at that time Moldavia was part of an important trade
route between northern and central Europe and the Italian cities
(Caffa, today's Feodosia, was the main Genoese colony in the Black
sea, the trade way to oriental products and one of the ends of
the silk and fur routes).
Papacostean: Stephen started the real confrontation with The High
Port once Hungary and Poland were busy at war in Bohemia. Renouncing
to give any military support to Poland against Hungary despite
the treaties, this was against the interests of Moldavia. In many
cases Papacostean describes the opposition against the Turks as
a Moldavian initiative. He mentions the diplomatic efforts of
the ambassadors travelling to Hungary, Venice, Crimea, and the
Turkoman State of Akkoyunlu. It started in 1473 when Stephen renounces
to pay any more tributes to the Sultan and starts taking action
in Wallachia, joining a group of European countries in a war against
the new ascending power. The war becomes general in all the Balkans,
Turkey, and later in Crimea. The great Moldavian victory at Vaslui
in 1475 made the army of Soliman Baja return without subjugating
Moldavia. An immediate Turkish campaign was sent to Crimea were
Stephen was pushing the Christian states against the Sultan. The
quick Turkish victories in Crimea (Caffa, Tartars under Turkish
influence) were followed by the invasion of Moldavia by Turkish
and Tartar forces in 1476. This campaign did not succeed. A fast
Tartar withdrawal due to an attack in Crimea by the Volga Horde
(in relations with Stephen), and the help of Hungary released
Moldavia and Wallachia of the Ottoman orbit. A few years later,
Stephen could not convince the rest of European powers to start
a new campaign against the Turks - to recover Caffa with the help
of the Volga Horde. Isolated, the country was invaded again in
1484, and definitely separated from the sea with the conquest
of Chilia and Cetatea Alba. From that moment, Moldavia was again
under the influence of Poland, as a payment for this protection.
In the time of Stephen, and specially once the war against the
Turks was finished, all the country was covered with new stone
religious buildings substituting the old wooden ones. Stephen
had the intention to give the country a tradition. For that reason
small churches in villages were built by local architects to big
monasteries, like Putna. A Chronicle of Moldavia was written to
be continued in the future for the same reason. Of this chronicle
there was also a German and a Russian translation- as an instrument
to present the new political reality in Europe.