Making of Romania: the Medieval States

The map of Romania in 1601, the first unification under Mihai Viteazu

All of what is now Romania was made up of small states, each one with its own story. Walachia, Moldavia, Transylvania and Dobrogea are the historical regions of Romania that give the country its cultural and historical richness. Let’s go over a few things you should know about each of them.

By Alexandra Fodor

Romania was divided into four historical and cultural provinces: Transylvania in the north-west and center, Moldavia in the east, Walachia (Oltenia and Muntenia) and Dobrogea in the south-east.

The foundation of Moldavia dates from the first half of the 14th century. The legend goes that Dragos, a Romanian nobleman, crossed into Moldavia from Maramures while hunting an aurochs and imposed his rule there. The arrival of Dragos in Moldavia is known in Romanian historiography as the descalecat (dismounting). Some years later, Bogdan Ist came from Maramures, an event known as the second dismounting of Moldavia.

The Romanian folklore mentions Negru-Voda as the founder of Walachia but beyond the legend there is a historical reality: the medieval state Walachia (Muntenia) was founded by Basarab I after the battle of Posada, in 1330.

Transylvania belonged, under a special status, to the Hungarian Crown until Hungary disappeared as a state in 1541.

The formation of Romanian medieval states ends with the creation of Dobrogea. The first record of an independent political region of Dobrogea is dated 1325. In this period, Balica, a Bulgarian noble, declares its independence, forming the Principality of Cavarna. The principality was in a constant struggle with the Bulgarians, Byzantines, Turks and Tartars and survived only until 1388 when the south was conquered by the Turks and the north came under the control of the Romanian Country (Tara Romaneasca).

The rulers of medieval times can be considered the most representative for the Romanian people. Most legendary among these rulers were Mircea cel Batran, Vlad Tepes, Iancu de Hunedoara, Stefan cel Mare and Mihai Viteazu.

Mircea the Elder

Mircea cel Batran (Mircea the Elder) was one of the most important rulers of the Romanian Country (Tara Romaneasca). He got the byname “Elder” after his death in order to distinguish him from his successors. Mircea strengthened the power of the state, promoted economic development and minted silver money that enjoyed a wide circulation. He was the wallachian ruler who succeeded the first victory against the Ottoman Empire at Rovine in 1395. He participated in the European crusades against Turks and was on the battlefield of Nicopolis when the Europeans were shamefully defeated.

Vlad the Impaler

Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) ruled Walachia under three reigns: in 1448, from 1456 to 1462, and again in 1476. His name derives from the cruelest torture he inflicted on victims: death by impalement. The list of his tortures also included: cutting off limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning. Despite his sadism, he is remembered for making justice and for the firm defense against the ottomans, which he successfully held at bay for some time. (Rumors of cannibalism led to Tepes’ inclusion in the Dracula myth of Bram Stoker’s novel.)

Iancu de Hunedoara (Iancu of Hunedoara), the ruler of Transylvania (1441-1456) fought heavy defense battles against the Ottoman Turks, delaying their expansion to Central Europe.

Stephen the Great

Throughout his long reign (1457-1504) Stefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great), managed to restore the central authority and imposed Moldavia among the major states of Europe engaged in fighting the Turks. He preserved his state from Hungarian and Polish attempts to conquer it. He earned his surname “Great” for his several successful military campaigns against the Turks. His most famous battles took place at Vaslui and Razboieni. Both were successes for the Moldavian ruler. (In 2006, 40,000 people voted him the greatest Romanian of all times in a poll organized by a Romanian TV channel.)

Michael the Brave

Mihai Viteazu (Michael the Brave) is regarded as one of Romania’s greatest national heroes. He is famous for uniting the three Romanian principalities (Walachia, Transylvania and Moldavia) which were ruled for the first time by a single Romanian leader. Unfortunately, the union lasted for less than six months. Michael the Brave was executed by a general of the Habsburg army, near Campia Turzii on August 9, 1601. The most important battles of his reign took place at Calugareni, Giurgiu and Selimbar. (The Order of Michael the Brave, Romania’s highest military decoration, was named after the medieval ruler.)

In the Middle Ages the main social classes were the boyars, the peasants and the townspeople (free-man, artisans, merchants). Boyars were obliged to follow the ruler in military campaigns and assist him in the administration of justice. They enjoyed tax exemptions. The land was worked by free peasants devoid of any property, but mostly by the dependent peasants who were called rumani in Romanian Country, vecini in Moldavia and serbi in Transylvania. Townspeople, who were not very rich in Moldavia and Romanian Country, were more prosperous in Transylvania.

In rural areas, the main types of dwelling were the hut and the simple house with two rooms. The urban settlements in Moldavia and Romanian Country were made from stone and brick. In Transylvania, the rural and urban structures were more similar to those of Central and Western Europe.

Romania is renowned for the painted monasteries and churches. Many of these are from Middle Ages. Below are some of the most important monasteries built in that period of time.

Cozia Monastery is known as the oldest and most complex historical and art monuments from Romania. It is one of the most important foundations of the ruler Mircea cel Batran who is buried there.

Putna Monastery was built at the initiative of Stefan cel Mare. Only three years after the monastery was completed, a fire destroyed it, but it was immediately rebuilt. The monastery houses the tombs of Stefan cel Mare and several of his family members. Voronet Monastery was also built during Stefan cel Mare’s reign. The church was built in 1488 in only four and a half months which is a record for that time.

Mihai Voda Monastery is one of the oldest buildings in Bucharest, preserved until today, founded by Michael the Brave. The monastery complex has undergone several transformations over time, performing various functions such as: royal residence, military hospital, medical school, state archives.

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