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Stefan cel Mare

Stephan the Great (Romanian icon)

Ştefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great) was a voivod (prince) of Moldavia (1457-1504), who won renown in Europe for his long resistance against the Ottoman Empire.

With the help of the Wallachian prince Vlad III the Impaler, Ştefan secured the throne of Moldavia in 1457. Menaced by powerful neighbours, he successfully repulsed an invasion by Hungary in 1467, and invaded Wallachia in 1471, which had by then succumbed to Turkish vassalage.

When the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II launched an attack on Moldavia, Stephen defeated the invaders near Vaslui in 1475. Stephen was defeated at Războieni (Valea Alba) next year, but turks had to retreat after they failed to take any important fortress (Neamţ, Suceava). His search for European assistance against the Turks had little success, but his determination "to cut off the pagan's right hand" won him the acclaim of Pope Sixtus IV as "Christ's Athlete".

After 1484 Ştefan had to contend not only with new Turkish onslaughts but also with Polish and Hungarian designs on Moldavian independence. Finally in 1503 he concluded with Sultan Beyazid II a treaty that preserved Moldavian independence but only at the cost of an annual tribute to the Turks.

Though it was marked by continual strife, Ştefan's long reign nonetheless brought considerable cultural development; no less than 44 churches and monasteries were erected by Ştefan himself, some of which are now part of UNESCO's World Heritage.