Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Stephen the Great: Leadership and Patronage on the Fifteenth-Century Ottoman Frontier

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Stephen the Great: Leadership and Patronage on the Fifteenth-Century Ottoman Frontier

Article excerpt


Much has been written regarding the nature of charity in early modern Europe through examinations of that phenomenon in Spain, France, Germany, England, and the Spanish colonial possessions in the New World. This study has very little to contribute that would elucidate the history of charity in those regions, but will attempt to add to our collective understanding of charity in modern Europe through a comparative study of royal patronage on the Ottoman frontier of Eastern Europe. The historical problem this study attempts to address is how patronage in eastern Europe, specifically that found in the Ottoman frontier province of Moldavia, compares to that of western Europe, for example vis-a-vis that found in the Spain of Isabela the Catholic that are revealed in such surviving documents as El Libro del Limosnero de Isabel la Catholica. Charity, as practiced by 15th century Moldavian Voevodes, was highly influenced by political events of the time, if not entirely motivated by them. In this respect one could perhaps draw a parallel to the charitable actions of Isabella of Spain, manifested through her agent Pedro, the Bishop of Toledo, at Malaga in the last quarter of the fifteenth century.

Stephen the Great of Moldavia

Descriptions of how the Ottoman Empire expanded into Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries raise the question as to how those medieval and early modern Europeans offered a viable defense against their comparatively better-organized, trained, supplied, disciplined, and led Ottoman forces. Standard histories refer to a Moldavian warlord, or "Voevode" named Stephen the Great (1451-1504, ruler of Moldavia 1457-1504), who "built a sizable state, took the Danubian port of Kilia, and was intervening in Wallachian politics as a first step toward conquering the Black Sea coast and the Crimea" (Shaw, 64). What were the characteristics of that Voevode who could not only survive as the ruler of a small state on the Ottoman frontier for forty-seven years, but who also had the elan to carry out successful offensive military operations against what was arguably the most powerful state in Eastern Europe and the Middle East at the time? A figure such as Stephen the Great would be characterized by an uncommon combination of courage, statesmanship, military acumen, and the ruthlessness needed to carry out his program, which are attributes that would probably transfer to other warlords who survived on the Ottoman frontier of the sixteenth century.

Although no work in English deals specifically with Stephen the Great, he is mentioned in dozens of other volumes, and it is through these sources one may piece together a profile of the Moldavian warlord. This research supports the work of the historian R. W. Seton-Watson, who wrote that "the career of Stephen the Great is certainly the least known among all the episodes of European defense: and yet he stands beside Hunyadi, Sobieski, and Eugene as one of the great champions of Christendom against the Turk" (Baerlein, 1945:19).

Stephen the Great makes an interesting subject for a comparative study, as he was roughly contemporaneous with the well-known Isabella and Ferdinand of Castile, and he was faced with a foreign invader, as were the Catholic Monarchs of Spain. Would their respective approaches to charity in the face of warfare with Muslim polities be of a similar model?

Background: Moldavia to the Fifteenth Century

Moldavia is one of two states which together with its southern neighbor Wallachia was located east of the Carpathian Mountains and west of the Black Sea and, when taken together, were known as "The Principalities" in the fifteenth century. Bordered on the north by Poland and the south by the Danube River and Bulgaria, the Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia were for the most part ethnically and linguistically Romanian, which set them apart from all of their neighbors, with the exception of Transylvania, which also shared a Romanian ethnic and linguistic majority due to the fact that together with the Principalities these three states once made up the Roman province of Dacia, which was founded by the Emperor Trajan in the third century A. …

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