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Stephen the Great As Seen By Contemporaries

The personality of Stephen the Great became known in Europe due to his deeds that spoke for themselves. However, it is only natural that a hero's personal life and details of his victories should attract everybody's attention, and numerous foreigners who appeared at the Moldovan court left some interesting records of the ruler's deeds. In this respect, we can say that the names of those ordinary travelers who described Moldova and its ruler in their travel notes, personal or official correspondence are now known only because they were lucky to describe glorious events in the history of Europe closely connected with the reign of Stephen the Great.

In the last years of his life Moldovan ruler asked the doge of Venice to recommend and send him a skilful doctor as his multiple war wounds needed close attention. Thus, in mid-1502, Matteo Muriano, a famous Italian doctor, was introduced to his patient who remarked that, "surrounded by enemies, he preferred a doctor sent by friends who truly love him." It should be noted that on his way to Moldova the Italian doctor fell gravely ill and soon died, but not before he could inform his Venetian patron about his new environment. A year later, Stephen sent an epistle to the doge saying that the doctor sent to Moldova had died failing to be of any use, so that wouldn't His Excellence be so kind as to refund "the 400 ducats paid for Muriano and furnish another doctor."

Muriano's name is recorded in history thanks to his two reports to the doge about his stay in Suceava - Stephen's fortress, containing interesting observations related to the Moldovan ruler, his lands, and major military and political events of the time, especially Moldovan campaign against the Poles resulting in the reacquisition of the disputed Pokutie region, as well as Tatar raids in Poland and Lithuania.

Paying tribute to Stephen's originality as a person, Muriano witnesses: "He is a well-educated person, worthy of great praise. His subjects like him for mercy and fairness. Stephen is sober-minded and generous; well-built and looks well for his age, but suffers from gout as a result of his wounds. With God's help I hope to alleviate his tortures."

Successor to the throne was also paid attention to: "His son, Bogdan Voievod, is worthy of his father: he is modest, but daring, courageous and virtuous despite his young age - about 25."

Moldovan army is attested to as being composed of "fearless men born for battles who are never tired. The Prince is capable of accumulating a 60,000-strong army within a short period of time."

The doge's correspondent was deeply impressed with Moldova's wealth: "It is a country of fertile soils, located both beautifully and advantageously and abounding in all kind of poultry; its meadows are spacious and rich, able to feed not less than a hundred thousand horses."

Fulfilling his informant mission, the doctor characterizes the strategic position of Moldova: "It is possible to reach Constantinople from here within 15-20 days, which presents a major threat to the Turkish flanks. Reliable people and merchants arriving from Constantinople tell that the Turks live in constant fear of Stephen, the Christian ruler capable of successfully attacking their country." Further on he mentions the fact that "in October, His Highness Prince Stephen won a number of fortresses from His Majesty the King of Poland, that had been occupied by the Kingdom much earlier."

Another foreigner enchanted by Moldova was Giovanni Angiolello (1450-1525), a native of Bologna who accompanied Mahmud II in a campaign against Stephen the Great in his capacity of a treasurer. Moldova was characterized by him as a "wonderful country with luxurious herds of cattle."

The campaign was started by a 30,000-strong army commanded by Suleiman, and the start proved to be unsuccessful: in the words of Giovanni Angiolello, Stephen "chased them to the Danube, where a lot of soldiers lost their lives, among them nobles. Many warriors tried to save themselves in the river. Suleiman barely managed to escape."

In his wish to take vengeance for the defeat, the Sultan gathered a numerous army and set out for Moldova. Angiolello's truthful account of the bloody battle at Valea Alba is full of sympathy with and respect to the Moldovans.

Angiolello's data is confirmed and expanded by another Venetian, Gerardo, an ambassador who spent several days in Brasov: "The Sultan and his army quit this country without having captured a single fortress or caused any damaged to Moldova, and Prince Stephen is free to rule his patrimony."

Stephen's glory survived in the history of Europe of the period that was closely connected with constant crusades and Turkish wars. After his death he became a symbol of anti-Osman struggle in Europe. It is not by incident that an anonymous memorandum to Pope Sixtus V dated by 1587, referring to a next possible anti-Osman campaign contained an allusion to Stephen the Great and his former triumphant rule. The author (some historians ascribe the authorship to Alessandro Comuleo, a missionary who had visited Moldova in 1586), proposed a plan of a new anti-Turkish coalition including Moldovans, Cossacks and Tatars.

Prepared by Ecaterina Strone

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