Born in Silisteni as a scion of the Moldavian boyar family of Cantemir, he was educated in languages, literature and history at the Princely Court of Iasi. Between 1688 and 1710 he lived in Constantinople (Istanbul), then returned and became prince of Moldavia in 1710.
He had ruled only one year (1710 - 1711) when he joined Peter the Great in his campaign against the Turks and placed Moldavia under Russian suzerainty. Beaten by the Turks, Cantemir couldn't return to Moldavia, so he emigrated to Russia, where he and his family finally settled. He died at Kharkov in 1723.
Cantemir was known as one of the greatest linguists of his time, speaking and writing eleven languages, and being well versed in Oriental scholarship. He was a voluminous and original writer of great sagacity and deep penetration, and his writings range over many subjects. The best known is his History of the Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire. He also wrote a history of oriental music, which is no longer extant; the first critical history of Moldo-Walachia; the first geographical, ethnographical and economic description of Moldavia, Descriptio Moldaviae, under the name of Historia Hieroglyphica, to which he furnished a key, and in which the principal persons are represented by animals; also the history of the two ruling houses of Brancoveanu and Cantacuzino; and a philosophical treatise, the first book ever written in Romanian language - written also in Greek, translated in Arabic, under the title Divanul sau Gâlceava Inţeleptului cu lumea sau Giudeţul sufletului cu trupul; in French: Le divan ou la dispute du sage avec le monde ou le jugement de l'âme avec le corps; in English The Divan or The Wise Man's Parley with the World or The Judgement of the Soul with the Body. The publishing place and date are: Iaşi 1698.