Stephen the Great, Vlad the Impaler’s cousin and in many ways opposite.
SUMMARY: He was born in 1433, became ruler of Moldavia in 1457 and 1504, being a ruler for 47 years. He took the throne of Moldavia from his uncle who killed his father to take the throne. At different points he was at war with every neighbour: Hungary, Poland, Tatars, Wallachians and Ottomans. He helped was helped and fought alongside Vlad the Impaler. He had 44 victories out of 46 battles, his only defeats being at the hand of the Ottomans.
He was a devout Christian, for each of his 44 victories he ordered a monastery to be built. His most crucial victories were: against Matthias Corvinus of Hungary at Baia, against the Tatars at Lipnic and against Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire at Vaslui and Razboieni, and against John Albert of Poland in Codrii Cosminului
STORY SUMMARY: His uncle killed his father in 1451 and took his throne. Stephen the Great fled to Hungary and helped by his cousin Vlad the Impaler to gain the throne of Wallachia in 1456. In return, Vlad the Impaler helped Stephen the Great take his father throne in the same year.
In 1459, Stephen the Great became a Polish vassal, this infuriated King Matthias of Hungary. In 1462 he failed to besiege Chilia but succeded 3 years later.
In 1467 King Matthias of Hungary attacked Moldavia and was beaten badly by Stephen the Great. Then Stephen the Great advanced in Transylvania. In 1469 King Matthias signed a peace treaty so he would stop.
When Vlad the Impaler lost the throne of Wallachia to his younger brother, Radu the Handsome in 1462, Stephen the Great knew that a war with the Ottomans was imminent since he previously took Chilia.
In 1470, Stephen the Great attacked Radu the Handsome in Wallachia. In response, the Ottoman Empire sent the Tatars to invade Moldavia but Stephen the Great defeated them at Lipnic and returned to Wallachia.
In 1474, Stephen the Great finally defeated Radu the Handsome who fled to the Ottoman Empire and placed Laiota Basarab as ruler of Wallachia. But 2 years later Laiota Basarab switched sides (top 10 anime betryals).
The same year Laiota Basarab switched sides, Mehmed II asked Stephen the Great to give up on Wallachia, give back Chilia and pay tribute to the Ottoman Empire. Stephen the Great refused and war was on.
Mehmed II sent Suleiman Pasha and Laiota Basarab to deal with Stephen the Great. Who defeated them at the Battle of Vaslui in 1475.
In 1476, Mehmed II came personally to fight Stephen the Great, he defeated Stephen the Great at the Battle of Valea Alba but was unable to take Moldavia’s capital, Suceava and eventually retreated.
In the same year, Stephen the Great invaded Wallachia from the east while his cousin Vlad the Impaler invaded Wallachia from the west.
Laiota Basarab fled to the Ottoman Empire, Vlad the Impaler was again ruler of Wallachia, but 2 months later Laiota Basarab returned with an Ottoman army and Vlad the Impaler was killed in battle.
The war lasted for 8 more years. In 1484, the Ottomans eventually managed to reconquer Chilia and Cetatea Alba and incorporate them into the Ottoman Empire, then signed a peace treaty with Stephen the Great where he would have to pay tribute and become an Ottoman vassal.
In 1494, the Polish King John Albert planned a replacement of Stephen III with Sigismund, his younger brother.
The 13 years of peace ended. In 1497, the Polish army marched in Moldavia under the pretext to release of Chilia and Cetatea Alba from the Ottoman Empire. John Albert suddently attacked Moldavia’s capital, Suceava, but was unable to take and eventually retreated.
On the way home, Stephen the Great attacked John Albert starting the Battle of Cosmin Forest heavly crippling the Polish army. In 1948, Stephen the Great sent armies to loot and plunder Poland.
In 1499, John Albert signed a peace treaty so he would stop, the Polish suzeranity over Moldavia ended.
In 1500, Stephen the Great stopped paying tribute to the Ottoman Empire again, and joined the Venetian - Ottoman war (1499 - 1503) together with Hungary, he defeated the Ottoman army again, but he could not recapture Chilia or Cetatea Alba.
In 1502, the Tatars of the Great Horde invaded Moldavia but Stephen the Great defeated them with the support of the Crimean Tatars.
The same year, he sent troops to support Hungary and since the truce with Poland expired recaptured Pocutia from Poland.
In 1503, Hungary and Wallachia signed a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire and Stephen the Great again paid a yearly tribute to the Ottomans. He died in 1504 of poor health. On his deathbed, he had urged his son and co-ruler, Bogdan, to continue to pay the tribute to the Sultan.
LONGER STORY: 1. Origins and Userper Peter
Stephen the Third, surnamed Stephen the Great was born in 1433 and died in 1504. Son of Bogdan II and Prince of Moldavia between 1457 and 1504, he ruled for 47 years, very uncommon at the time. In his long rule, he fought against every neighbour: the Kingdom of Hungary, the Kingdom of Poland, the Crimean Khanate and the Ottoman Empire, having a total of 46 battles out of which 44 were victories
While Vlad the Impaler, although Christian, is seen in popular culture more like the devil or at least a cruel torturer, Stephen the Great was more of a devout Christian or at least a religious fanatic. For each victory, he ordered for a church or a monastery complex to be built. The Pope called him “Champion of Christ” and was sometimes named “Stephen the Great and Holy”. Many of the monasteries built by him stand today on the list of world heritage sites.
Famous quotes by Stephen the Great:
- I don’t like wars.
- We do not owe anything to anyone and we never oppressed anyone, we want to live in peace and understanding with the neighbours that God gave us, as well as with faraway countries.
- If you already have so much money and power, what are you doing in my country?
After his father, Bogdan II, was killed by his brother in 1451, Peter Aaron, Stephen the Great fled to Hungary, helped Vlad the Impaler to gain the throne of Wallachia in 1456 and arrived the same year with his army helped by his Wallachian cousin Vlad the Impaler.
After defeating Peter’s army twice, he goes to Suceava and asks the people present if they want him to be their ruler. The assembly of bishops, nobles and townsmen agree and he becomes Stephen III of Moldavia while Peter took refugee in Hungary.
2. Conflict with Hungary
In 1459, Stephen the III recognized Poland as a sovereign state. His obedience to Poland, caused King Matthias of Hungary to consider Stephan as treacherous (big words from the guy who lied to the Pope and to Vlad the Impaler then betrayed him) and in 1462 Stephen the Great took advantage of the Ottoman Empire’s war with Vlad the Impaler and unsuccesfully besieged the fortress of Chila.
Only in 1465 did Stephen the Great managed to take Chilia with the help of the local townsmen.
In 1467 the position of King Matthias was unchanged, giving asylum to Peter and claming obedience from Stephen III, who supported the uprising of the Transylvanian Saxons and nobility against King Matthias, and gave refugee to the leaders of the failed rebellion.
King Matthias attacked Moldavia with 8.000 cavalry and 4.000 infantry in order to settle the issue. He brought with him 2 pretenders to the throne.
At the Battle of Baia, Stephen III managed to burn the town that the Hungarian army as settled in. Descriptions of the battle say that the fire made the night equal to day and that many hungarians were burned alive. King Matthias was wounded by 3 arrows and had to be carried away from the battlefield, the hungarian army routed to Transylvania only to be stopped by a blockade but Matthias luckly escapes.
In 1468 the Moldavian army advanced in Transylvania, found Peter and had him exectued.
In 1469 Stephen III further raided Rodna and Baia Mare in Hungary as retaliation for supporting contender Peter. Then Stephen III and King Matthias signed a peace treaty and became allies.
3. Incursion against Radu the Handsome
Due to previously taking Chilia and Cetatea Alba in 1465, Stephen III foresaw that he will eventually have to fight the Ottoman Empire, he wanted to have a friend ruler in Wallachia instead of pupper ruler Radu the Handsome, younger brother of Vlad the Impaler who took the throne in 1462 with Ottoman help after Vlad the Impaler was imprisoned.
In 1470 Stephen III began hostilities against Radu the Handsome in Wallachia occupying the cities of Braila and Ialomita, the Ottoman Empire sent in response the Tatars to invade Moldavia but Stephen III defeated them at Lipnic.
After returning to the Wallachian front and further defeating Radu the Handsome in battles, he fled to the Ottoman Empire in 1973 and Stephen III’s ally Laiota Basarab was placed as ruler of Wallachia.
But Basarab’s loyalty is shortlived and after 2 years he soon switches sides, reasoning that the powerful Ottoman Empire will better help him consolidate his rule.
Still, even with Wallachia back in the Ottoman camp, in losing Moldavia the Ottomans lost an important vassal to the north which could jeopardize their control over the Danube delta as well as their ambitions to take control over Bessarabia.
As you can imagine, Mehmed is none too pleased about all this and he gives his want-away vassal an ultimatum: Stefan must cease all hostilities against Wallachia, travel to Istanbul and pay tribute he is due for the past five years, and surrender the important fortified port-city of Chilia to the Ottoman Empire, which would then no doubt serve as a base for future Ottoman military operations into Bessarabia and Moldavia beyond.
Unsurprisingly, Stefan refuses and both sides begin preparing for war.
Mehmed orders his Bosnian general and governor of Rumelia, Suleiman Pasha, to end the siege of the Venetian town of Shkodër, in present-day Albania, and assemble his troops in Sofia, from where he is to advance towards Moldavia. The long siege of Shkodër, stretching from May to August, coupled with another 30 days of marching through rough terrain takes its’ toll on the troops.
Still, they reach Sofia by late September. According to contemporary sources the Ottoman army numbered around 120,000 troops, which is likely a highly exaggarated figure. Looking at the composition of Ottoman armies
In the 15th century, Suleiman probably commanded around 50,000 troops, with another few thousand Bulgarians performing mainly engineering tasks such as clearing roads and building bridges. After assembling in Sofia, Suleiman turns north and moves towards the Danube. But the autumn chill creeps in, and the ever colder days begin to increasingly hamper troop movement.
4. Suleiman in Moldavia
As he crosses into Wallachia via Vidin, Suleiman, knows his troops are facing a harsh winter campaign and gives the men a well-deserved rest. Two weeks later the Ottoman army marches again. As they advance through Wallachia, Basarab Laiotă joins the Ottoman juggernaut with his 15,000 strong army.
Stefan, meanwhile, spends months appealing to the Pope and other European countries for support. Aided by the
Venetians in his diplomatic efforts, but the Christian kingdoms offer little help: 1800 Hungarians, 2000 Polish horsemen, a small number of Transylvanian handgunners and 5000 Székely infantry, personally recruited by Stefan.
The size of Moldavia’s army is, again, probably inflated by contemporaries. It is likely that Stefan commanded no more than 30,000 troops and 20 cannons in total.
Though heavily outnumbered, the Prince of Moldavia is well prepared. Upon entering Moldavia, the Ottomans are met with a completely desolate country; its’ waters poisoned; its’ settlements burned; its’ population gone.
Stefan has evacuated the population and livestock, destroying anything that may be of use to the Ottomans, aiming towear down the invaders as much as possible. Not daring to disobey Mehmed’s orders, Suleiman reluctantly continues the march.
But his army is soon bogged down as Moldavian detatchments constantly harrass and ambush the Ottomans, destroying some of their supplies and hindering their advance. Suleiman’s troops march through Moldavia
For nearly 30 days in freezing conditions, searching for Stefan’s army.
But finally, on January 10th 1475, Ottoman scouts bring news. They find several untouched villages further north-west. Suleiman orders the troops to cross and deploy on the other side of the Bârlad river. There, he expects to either find Stefan or to rest his exhausted troops in the villages discovered by the scouts.
Heavy fog severely restricts visibility and the rain keeps pouring throughout the day, turning parts of the valley into a muddy marsh. As the Ottoman army deploys in battle formation across the river, suddenly, Moldavian war drums and trumpets reverberate in the distance.
Suleiman is now convinced that Stefan’s entire army sits further up the valley, but cannot see them through the fog. He orders his troops to advance slowly towards the enemy, and rushes more troops across the bridge.
5. The Battle of Vaslui
Unbeknownst to him, in the middle of the valley, only the Székely and Moldavian professional infantrymen are deployed, along with the Hungarian infantry. Moldavian light cavalry is on the flanks, with a Moldavian heavy cavalry detatchment and Polish heavy cavalry in the rear. As the Ottomans advance through the marshy area, knee-deep in mud, Moldavian light cavalry suddenly appears.
Faced with repeated hit-and-run attacks, the Ottoman Janissaries and regular infantry push forward to get out of the mud, followed by the Sipahi heavy cavalry. forward to get out of the mud, followed by the Sipahi heavy cavalry. repeated attacks by the Moldavian light cavalry. Midway through the valley, the Ottoman infantry clashes with the defenders. As more Ottoman troops advance up the field, Stefan springs his trap. Archers and handgunners shower the Ottomans with projectiles from the surrounding woods. Cannons, hidden on a nearby hill begin bombarding the area around the bridge.
As ordered by Stefan, his troops in the valley begin a tactical retreat, luring more and more Ottoman troops into the line of fire. Unable to see the enemy through the thick fog, Moldavian archers shoot in the direction
of the sound of enemy footsteps. Helped by the rain of arrows, Székely troops manage to crush the Ottoman left flank, but are soon pressed hard by the heavy sipahi cavalry. Not able to see what is happening in the valley, Suleiman throws everything he has at trying to reinforce the attack.
But, soon after, the bridge collapses under the weight of the troops which nearly severs Ottoman lines of communication. Meanwhile up the valley, Ottoman troops rout the Székely infantry and begin to envelop the defenders.
But then, Stefan springs his final trap. More war drums and trumpest sound off, west of the Ottoman left flank. Expecting a Moldavian attack from where the music is playing, Ottoman commanders scramble to turn their troops and form a line, which stops their momentum in pushing up the valley. Unable to see through the fog, they hear the sound of drums and trumpets getting closer, and closer.
But the main Moldavian army is on the hill behind them, hidden in the trees. At that moment Stefan plays his final move. With his elite boyar heavy cavalry in the center, and peasant infantry on the flanks, he charges down the hill into the exposed Ottoman rear. Seeing the charge, panic errupts as the Ottomans think they are being attacked from three sides, and their troops break rank. In a chaotic headlong retreat, the Ottoman troops are chased down and slaughtered en masse by the Moldavian army.
Basarab Laiotă flees from the battlefield without commiting his troops. Suleiman’s position is soon flooded by fleeing soldiers. He tries to regain control of the army but is forced to signal a general retreat. While the set piece battle was over on January 10th 1475, the engagement lasted for another 3 days, as Stefan’s troops chased the Ottomans all the way south to the Siret and Danube rivers.
Stephen the Great inflicted a great defeat on the Ottoman Empire, the Battle of Vaslui was described as the greatest ever secured by the contemporary Venetian and Polish sources, reaching beyond 40.000 casualties on the Ottoman side.
6. The Return of Vlad the Impaler
In the following year, Mehmed II personally invaded Moldavia with an army of 150.000 men, which was joined by 10.000 Wallachians under Laiota and 30.000 Tatars attacking from the east who called for a holy war and started to pillage the country. Stephen the Great rooted and killed the Tatars.
In 1476, after killing 30.000 Ottomans, Stephen the Great was defeated at the battle of Valea Alba at the hands of Mehmed II.
However, Mehmed II was unsuccesful in his siege of Suceava citadel and eventually retreated. While Laiota was forced to return to Wallachia when Vlad the Impaler returned from Transylvania with an army of 30.000 men.
Stephen the Great invaded Wallachia from the east while Vlad the Impaler invaded Wallachia from the west.
Laiota fled to the Ottoman Empire and in November 1476, Vlad the Impaler was again ruler of Wallachia. He received 200 loyal knights from Stephen the Great to serve as his loyal bodyguards but his army remained small. When Laiota returned in December 1476, Vlad the Impaler went to battle and was killed by the Janissaries near Bucharest.
Laiota again became ruler of Wallachia which forced Stephen III to return again to Wallachia and dethron Laiota for the 5th and last time while Vlad IV Tepelus was established as ruler of Wallachia.
In 1484, the Ottomans managed to reconquer Chilia and Cetatea Alba and incorporate them into the Ottoman Empire under the name of Budjak, leaving Moldavia a landlocked principality for many years to come.
Out of the 47 of rule, Stephen the Great was at war with the Ottoman Empire for 10 years, between 1474 and 1484, evetually signing a peace treaty and accepting once again Ottoman suveranity.
7. War with Poland
In 1494 the Polish King John Albert planned a replacement of Stephen III with Sigismund, his younger brother.
The Polish official pretext of the campaign in Moldavia in 1497 was the release of Chilia and Cetatea Alba from the Ottoman Empire. John Albert tried to siege Suceava but he failed, at the same time Stephen the Great was helped by 2.000 Ottoman soldiers and 12.000 Hungarian soldiers.
In the face of military and diplomatic pressure, John Albert abbandoned the plans to remove Stephen III from the throne of Moldavia.
On the way home, Stephen III attacked John Albert starting the Battle of Cosmin Forest heavly crippling the Polish army. In retaliation, Stephen the Great sent armies to loot and plunder in Poland in 1498 and 1499.
After repeated exchanges of messages in 1499 the Polish suzeranity over Moldavia ended and a peace between Moldavia and Poland was signed.
8. A Last Attempt
In 1500, Stephen the Great stopped paying tribute to the Ottoman Empire again, but by then his health had declined. In 1501, he sent a delegation to Venice to discuss the possibility of Moldavia and Hungary joining Venice in the war with the Ottoman Empire.
Stephen the Great’s army again broke into the Ottoman Empire, but they could not recapture Chilia or Cetatea Alba. The Tatars of the Great Horde invaded southern Moldavia, but Stephen defeated them with the support of the Crimean Tatars in 1502.
He also sent reinforcements to Hungary to fight against the Ottomans. By then, however, the treaty with Poland was no longer enforced, prompting Stephen to recapture Pocutia from Poland in 1502.
Hungary, Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire concluded a new peace treaty in 1503, and Stephen the Great again paid a yearly tribute to the Ottomans.
In an ironic twist, the doctor he got from Venice died in late 1503. Another Moldavian delegation was sent to Venice to ask for a replacement, but also to propose a new alliance against the Ottomans. This was one of his last acts of international diplomacy, as he died in 1504. On his deathbed, he had urged his son and co-ruler, Bogdan, to continue to pay the tribute to the Sultan.
According to contemporary chronicler Grigore Ureche, Stephent the Great had been regarded as a saint soon after his funeral: “not on account of his soul, for he was a man with sins, but on account of the great deeds he accomplished”.
In total, Stephen III built 44 monasteries and churches, one for each victory. During his 47 years rule, he had a 44-2 win-lose ratio, while being outnumbered in many, his most famous victories being against Matthias Corvinus of Hungary at Baia, against the Tatars at Lipnic, against Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire at Vaslui and Razboieni, and against John Albert of Poland in Codrii Cosminului. With his only defeats being at Valea Alba against Mehmed II and his first siege of Chilia in 1462.
The Battle of Vaslui in-depth:
The Battles of Vaslui and of Valea Alba in-depth: