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How to Leave a Legacy: King Stephen the Great

An enthusiastic History& Law student who likes to dig up history treasures and share them with the whole world.


You've probably heard of him if you are from a Romanian speaking country or are a fan of famous historical personalities:

A brave commandant and humble king, the man who defeated the fearful Ottomans and saved the Christian Europe with a small army- Ștefan cel Mare/ Stephen the Great.

So, why the ,,Great''?

Also known as ,,Athlete of Christ'' or the ,,Preserver of Christianity in Europe'' and overall, the king who saved the medieval Europe from being invaded by the ottomans, Stephen was Voivode/ Prince of Moldavia from 1457 to 1504.

His reign was marked by war and a constant fight for Moldavian's independence, considering the fact that this little country has always been a desired land to conquer for it's strategic position. The Romanian countries Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania were a ,,gateway '' in and out of Europe, and many were those who wanted to benefit from it.

Let's dive deeper and see how a ruler of a poor country managed to defeat some of the strongest armies of that time:

  • Ottoman Empire- Suleiman Pasha
  • Hungary- Matthias Corvinus
  • Poland- John I Albert

The greatest victory over the Ottomans

Keep in mind that all this time king Stephen's army was far outnumbered by his enemy's. For example, in the Battle of Vaslui (10 January 1475) the Ottomans troops numbered up to 120,000, facing about 40,000 Moldavian troops, plus smaller numbers of allied and mercenary troops.


As a consequence of the innovative tactics (scorched earth and poisoned waters) and strategies shown by the Moldavian king, his army gains a definite victory in this battle. Stefan becomes known throughout Europe for his bravery and is awarded the title "Athleta Christi" (Champion of Christ) by Pope Sixtus IV, who referred to him as "verus christianae fidei athleta" ("the true defender of the Christian faith").

In spite of that, Moldavia's hopes for military support still went unfulfilled.

Stephen's victory at Vaslui is considered one of the greatest Moldavian victories over the Ottomans. It had a major role in universal history for it had secured the culture and civilization of the Christian West from the onslaught of Islam.



10 January 1475


Near Vaslui, present-day Romania


Moldavia, Poland, Hungary VS Ottoman Empire


Stephen III of Moldavia, Hadım Suleiman Pasha

How many?

aprox.40,000 Moldavians - aprox.120,000 Ottomans

The result:

Moldavian victory

The Voivode himself summes up, with humble pride, the deeds for which he had been glorified by the Christian Europe of the time:

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"I have fought 36 battles since I became lord of this country, of which I was victorious in 34 and lost 2."

-Stephen the Great

The two defeats are the first failed siege of the Chilia Fortress (1462) and the battle of the White Valley (1476).

A cultural inspiration: Monasteries

Besides the merits of a great military leader, strategist and diplomat, Prince Stefan cel Mare realized a work of building spiritual culture in Moldova. He established a cultural tradition that has lasted over the centuries.

An invaluable contribution, springing from Stefan's strong religious feelings, was giving Moldova a real treasure of religious constructions, which still make up the pride of Romanian church architecture.

Stephen the Great is famous for building and influencing the building of churches and monasteries in Moldavia. Allegedly, he founded a religious edifice after each military victory as a memory of those who fell in battle and as gratitude to Lord for his success.


The Putna Monastery houses the tombs of Stephen and several of his family members. The icon veils and tombstones are held as fine examples of Moldavian art in Stephen the Great’s time.

The church buildings from that historical period have Gothic and Byzantine influences for the king brought masters from all over the Europe to Moldavia to share there art with local craftsmen. As a result, we have harmoniously blended european style with specific popular elements; leading to the creation of a true Moldavian style.

The secular and military constructions marked the flourishing economy of the country ruled by a wise leader.

Despite the fact that king Stephen the Great's was marked by warfare, he managed to protect his country and leave a legacy for the oncoming generations.


© 2021 Gabrielle Lou


Gabrielle Lou (author) on June 24, 2021:

Thank you for taking your time to read this!

Joanne Hayle from Wiltshire, U.K. on June 18, 2021:

I'd never heard of Stephen thanks for an interesting and informative piece. :-)

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