14th Century AD
Topics covered in this section:
In the 14th century we begin to see a degree of stabilization taking place in Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania. A series of voivodes (princes or dukes) managed to unite the Romanian people. But it's still much too early in Romania's history for the people to even begin thinking about a single, united nation (though many Romanian historians imply that some people were already struggling toward that goal).
Lack of Succession Laws
One of the problems that the Principalities faced was the absence of well defined succession laws, which created a fertile environment for political intrigue. Succession was neither hereditary nor elective, but a mixture of the two — hereditary in principle, but without the Western criterion of transmission of the thone in the direct line of descendants.
Not only sons but also brothers, cousins, or even more distant relatives could aspire to becoming the voivode. The only condition was that the successor be of "princely bone" — that is, belong to the family. And it didn't matter if they were born a legitimate or an illigitimate son. Naturally, women were excluded from the beginning.
Of course, there were also men who only pretended to be the son of a voivode. Such was the case of one of the most famous of all Romanian heros, Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave, whom we'll meet later). Mihai simply declared himself to be the posthumous son of Voivode Petraşcu the Kind (or Peter the Good), thereby qualifying to become a voivode.
In time some very distant relatives appeared who were not really relatives at all. Some of these even adopted the name Basarab in order to appear to be more convincing. Eventually, not even this subterfuge mattered anymore because the rulers will be appointed by the Turks as a matter of course.
From the 14th to the 17th century the histories of Wallachia and Moldavia are filled with tales of voivodes being overthrown by rival factions. However, two prominent long-standing dynasties did emerge — the Basarab dynasty in Wallachia and the Muşatin dynasty in Moldavia.
Although it can be difficult to keep track of everything that's happening in Romania I must break things out by regions. Events in the principalities (Wallachia, Moldavia, and Transylvania) were often independent of each other. And sometimes, I have to move far afield to bring in a few details of other regions outside Romania. This is because people and events of these non-Romanian regions affect our Romanian story.
Rather than maintain a strict adherence to Romania only, I include a brief discussion of these other regions so that you have the required background when they interact with Romanian territories. For example, people and events in Austria, Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Russia, and the Balkans in general often directly affect people and events inside Romania. If I didn't take the time to explore these side tracks, you'd find names suddenly popping up and wonder where they had come from.
I also occasionally introduce events that are globally known, such as the occurance of the Bubonic Plague, to enhance the historic context of our particular segment of the past.
At the beginning of the century, Wallachia consisted of small tribal confederations (statelets or banates), which were pretty much dependent on the Hungarian crown. Basarab I united the Vlach lands, creating the principality of Wallachia (though I've referred to it several times in the past, before it was officially created).
Basarab allied with Bulgarian and Serbian rulers in an attempt to break free from the Hungarian bonds.
Voivode Basarab's successor, Voivode Alexandru, strengthened the new alliances by marrying off three of his daughters, one to a Bulgarian tsar, another to a Serbian prince, and a third to a Hungarian duke. But Alexandru, though surrounded by Catholics, refused to give up his Orthodox faith.
Voivode Alexandru's successor, Voivode Vlaicu-Voda (Vladislav), saw the riches of Hungary and decided to establish economic ties with his northern neighbors. Toward the end of his reign Bucharest became the trade center of Wallachia and the voivode was forced to sign treaties with the Ottoman Empire and to pay annual tributes to the sultan.
Voivode Vlaicu-Voda's successor, Voivode Radu, was granted the right to mint coins. An Orthodox Metropolitan was appointed for Wallachia, allowing it to separate from Catholic Hungary, at least on religious grounds. Târgovişte became the capital of Wallachia.
Mircea cel Bătrân (Mircea the Elder), one of Romania's historic heros, then became the voivode of Wallachia. He established Wallachia as a vast territory and fought a continual battle against Turkish encroachment. One of his descendants (through an illegitimate son) by the name of Vlad will become a household word, thanks to the Bram Stoker novel. Of course, I'm talking about Dracula, the grandson of Mircea.
Meanwhile, east of the Carpathians the political development of Cumans and Vlachs inhabiting the Moldavian tablelands and foothills fell somewhat behind the Wallachians. The main reason for this was due to their vulnerability to invasions by Pechenegs, Oguzes, and Mongol-Tatars from the east across the Ukrainian steppe. At the same time, invasions by Slavic Ruthenians and Poles threatened Moldavia's northern region (later known as Bucovina).
Dragoş, a voivode from Transylvania, is considered to be the first ruler of Moldavia. From that point forward I only know the next few Moldavian voivodes by name: Sas, Balc, Bogdan, Laţu, Petru, Roman of Muşat, Ştefan, and Iuga.
Moldavia existed in a precarious spot, squeezed between Catholic Poland on the north and Islamic Turkey on the south. But like Wallachia, Moldavia remained true to its Orthodox foundation.
The capital of Moldavia was established at Suceava.
The fall of the Árpád dynasty at the beginning of the century shifted the locus of Hungarian power. Local magnates confiscated peasant land and increased feudal obligations to usury levels. Eventually, Transylvania fell under the control of Hungarian kings.
Of course, Hungary took notice of the barbarian invasions of Moldavia and took steps to secure their eastern borders against incursions into Transylvania. Hungary established border marches east of the Carpathians, though a few local Vlach district voivodes resisted Hungarian control by aligning with the Poles. Hungary was primarily concerned with Mongol invasions.
Perhaps the most notable Hungarian king of the century was King Sigismund, the son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV of Luxemburg. Sigismund went on to become the king of several countries, including Hungary, Germany, and Bohemia. Eventually, he became Holy Roman Emperor as well.
King Sigismund fought several successful battles against the Ottoman Empire. His worst defeat was at the Battle of Nicopolis. After limping back home to Transylvania, Sigismund consolidated his power.
But the Turks presented the greatest threat to Romanian peasants from the 14th century onward. The Ottoman Turks kept them in a constant state of fear and harassment. Only now and then were the voivodes (peasant chieftains) powerful enough to strike bargains with the Turkish invaders, which temporarily granted them a limited degree of self-rule.
A series of warlords (later called sultans) ruled the Ottoman Empire, beginning with Orhan (or Othman), from whom the Ottomans got their name. Expanding from their empire in Anatolia (Turkey), the Turkish troops pushed northward toward our particular region.
Using camels, something very unusual for the Balkans, the Turks were able to move more rapidly than cavalry units or foot soldiers. Crossing the Bosporus they spread rapidly into the Balkans. Once they set foot in eastern Europe, they were very difficult to dislodge. By the end of the century the green Islamic flag flew over the Balkans.
Murad continued the expansion efforts of his predecessor, Orhan. Serbia and Bulgaria were weakened from decades of civil wars, making this an opportune time for the Ottoman Empire to attack. The empire's European capital was established at Edirne, leaving the Byzantine Emperor in the position of vassal to the Turks.
The empire enriched its ranks through a conscription program unlike any ever seen before. Young Christians were taken from their homes at a tender age, indoctrinated into the Islamic faith, and then inducted into the Janissaries, a form of mercenary infantry.
The arrival of the Ottomans in Europe prompted a series of religious wars pitting the Catholic and Orthodox Christians against the Islamic Muslims.
When the empire had conquered Bulgaria and Serbia, the Turks were at the doorstep of the Romanian principalities. King Sigismund and Prince Mircea the Elder fought valiantly to hold them at bay, but ultimately failed to drive them back. Mircea was defeated at the Battle of Kosovo Polje (Field of Blackbirds).
Most of the territories conquered by the Ottoman Empire became pashaliks (provinces) of the empire. Wallachia and Moldavia managed to escape this fate by signing treaties with the Turks. Though they didn't become a pashalik they were forced to pay exhorbitant annual tributes to the Sublime Porte (seat of Turkish government).
Beyazid, the successor to Murad, besieged Constantinople. He didn't manage to conquer the Byzantine capital, however. That honor will be reserved for a future sultan. But he did manage to conquer much of Greece.
Spain, under King Alfonso, wanted a piece of the maritime trade on the Aegean, Adriatic, and Black seas. Of course, the Black Sea is in Romania's neighborhood. Fortunately, Alfonso never reached his goal.
His son, Ferrante, thought brutality and terror was the proper way to win over the people when diplomatic measures failed.
To help American readers, the following pronunciation guide to Romanian words used above is provided. The sounds shown are only approximations, however.
- Alexandru. Ah-lehx-ahn-droo.
- Balc. Bahlk.
- Basarab. Bah-sahr-rahb.
- Bătrân. (Batran) Buh-trihn.
- Bogdan. Bohg-dahn.
- cel. chehl.
- Dracula. Drah-koo-lah.
- Dragoş. (Dragos) Drah-gohsh.
- Iuga. Yoo-gah.
- Laţu. (Latu) Laht-soo.
- Mihai. Mee-high.
- Mircea. Meer-chyah.
- Muşat. (Musat) Moo-shaht.
- Muşatin. (Musatin) Moo-shah-teen.
- Petraşcu. (Petrascu) Peh-trahsh-koo.
- Petru. Peh-troo.
- Radu. Rah-doo.
- Roman. Roh-mahn.
- Sas. Sahs.
- Ştefan. (Stefan) Shteh-fahn.
- Târgovişte. (Targoviste) Tihr-goh-veesh-teh.
- Viteazul. Vee-tyah-zool.
- Vlad. Vlahd.
- Vlaicu-Voda. Vligh-koo-voh-dah.
- Wallachia. Vah-lahk-yah.
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