Romania in the Middle Ages


The Dark Ages in what is now Romania ended around the 11th century, following the period in which the Romanian lands had been part of the First Bulgarian Empire (802-1018). During that period, the Magyar tribes, led by Árpád, migrated into Europe (896) and settled in the Carpathian Basin and Pannonia. Stopped in their progress towards the west by Emperor Otto I (Battle of Lechfeld, 955), the Magyars settled down and turned to the south-east and east.

Already in the 10th century, in an effort to break away from Byzantine influence, Boris I of Bulgaria replaced the Greek language with Church Slavonic in administration, literature and liturgy, and the Greek Alphabet with the Cyrillic alphabet. Slavonic literature became the third major literature in the Christian world, while Slavonic liturgy spread throughout most of Eastern Europe. By the 10th century, the Wallachs (exonym of the Romanians. see Vlachs) both north and south of the Danube, after having long remained faithful to the Greek ritual, had adopted the Slavonic liturgy. [The second Charter of Basil II to Samuil of Bulgaria states: "We decree that the holiest Archbishop of Bulgaria shall possess not only the bishoprics mentioned by names but if there are some others situated in Bulgarian lands and forgotten to be mentioned, we decree that he shall possess and govern them as well. Whatever other towns missed to be mentioned in the charters of our Majesty, shall be possessed by the same holiest Archbishop and he shall collect canonicon from them all as well as from the Wallachians throughout Bulgaria and from the Turks around the Vardar in so far as they are within the Bulgarian boundaries."]

In 1054, ongoing dissension between the Orthodox Church of Byzantium, led by the Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Roman Catholic Church, led by the Pope, came to a head in mutual excommunications by the two leaders. The Great Schism marks one of the most significant breaks between Eastern and Western Christianity, and these two events were to have consequences that marked the history of the Romanian people in the centuries to come.

The 11th century saw the arrival of yet another Turkic tribe to the area north of the Black Sea: the Cumans, with whom the Romanians were to have relatively good relations and associations.

First territorial states

Rural communities, in various combinations, began to unite with one another on account of their common interest in defending and benefiting from agricultural lands (for crops and livestock). These unions called "ţări" (meaning “countries” or "realms"; the word derives from Latin "terra" = "land") were each ruled by a "voievod", "cneaz", or a "jude". Historians have counted so far twenty such "ţări" on the modern territories of Romania and the Republic of Moldova: a "realm of Dacia" was among the nations represented at the Roman Catholic Second Council of Lyons, 1274. In his "Descriptio Moldaviae", Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723) later named some of these pre-statal entities: Tigheci, Câmpulung and Vrancea, which survived and maintained their specificity through the Middle Ages to Cantemir's time.

The best way to describe these collections of village communities is as unions in small confederacies, some paying tribute to various nomadic tribes, with more or less powerful chiefs trying to create little kingdoms, relying mostly on transhumance and agriculture. In the 10th and 11th century, a parallel with the social and political scene of Western Europe of the same period, is erroneous, as the factors involved are of completely different nature. [ [ Daniel Chirot] : "A new analysis of the Romanian Middle Ages (1300-1800) in recent Romanian scholarship," Southeastern Europe, 1:1 (1974), 80-88]

Beginning with the 10th century, Byzantine, Slavic and Hungarian sources, and—later on—Western and even Oriental sources mention the existence of Romanians and Romanian state entities under the name of Vlachs (Wallachians, Wlachs, Wallachs, Olahs, Ulahs, Blahs, Blachs, etc). Most of these states were small kingdoms that usually were disbanded after their leaders' deaths.

Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia

In the middle of the 13th century, the Romanian lands east of the Carpathian Mountains fell under the dependency of the Mongols (See: Mongol invasion of Europe.

Transylvania (with several self-governing autonomous regions) and Terra Transalpina/Cumania (terms used for present day Muntenia) were, at that time, part of the Kingdom of Hungary.

After the Mongol invasion, the Cumanians from Muntenia had been resettled on the Great Plain of Hungary, the remaining Slavs and Cumanians were gradually absorbed into a growing population of Romanians. Hungary's king remained the region's nominal master, but he exercised his rule through the local voivodes who had been appointed over the cnezes of the Romanian border-guard districts in Southern Transylvania. By 1247, King Béla IV granted Severin Province and the Cumanian Country to the Knights of St John of Jerusalem (Knights Hospitallers).

The political crisis that erupted around 1300 in Hungary, opened the way for the creation of Wallachia in the early 14th century by Basarab I.In the early 14th century the Mongol domination in Moldavia was shattered and the lands near the Siret river were incorporated into the Kingdom of Hungary - as a defense vasal polity - under the rule of a Vlach voivode from Maramures, Dragos.Later Bogdan another Vlach voivode took control of Moldavia and seceded from Hungary in 1359.

The history of the Romanian people during the Middle Ages, is characterised by the separation into four (including Dobrudja) then three neighbouring, independent states: Wallachia, Moldavia and Kingdom of Hungary.


The anonymous chronicle "Gesta Hungarorum" mentions Menumorut, Gelou and Glad as rulers of some local statal enities in Transylvania and Banat. The "Vita Sancti Gerardi" mentioned Ahtum, descendant of Glad.

By 1003, King Stephen I of Hungary led an army into Transylvania and the local ruler Gyula ("Geula, Gyyla or Jula"), his uncle submitted to him. Transylvania was part of the Kingdom of Hungary since its esablishement. However, certain pre-Magyar aspects had been preserved. Thus, the administration of the Hungarian counties were in the hands of a voivod. As early as 1288, Transylvania's noblemen convoked their own assembly, or diet.

By the 11th century, according to chronicles and traditions, Székely had established themselves in western, later southern Transylvania as guardians of the frontier from where they were moved to their present day homeland in the 12th century. In the 12th century, the Germans who would become known as the Transylvanian Saxons were invited to colonise in Transylvania to develop the urban and commercial centers. Their citadels would give Transylvania its German name, "Siebenbürgen" ("seven cities")

In 1291, Andrew III called up the general assembly ("congregation generalis") of the four Transylvanian Estates at Alba Iulia Gyulafehérvár where the Nobles, the Saxons, the Szeklers and the Romanians (Universitas Valachorum) were each granted the right to their own form of self-administration and military organisation as ethnic and/or social groups: “"Universis nobilibus, Saxonibus, Syculis et Olachis"”. Romanians continued to live organised into voivodships and czenates (Rogerius - “Carmen Miserabile”) and some maintained an even greater degree of autonomy within the Kingdom of Hungary: Máramaros, Hátszeg, Fogaras, the land of Avas (Avasvidék), the land of the Mócs (Mócvidék), etc. The “Painted Chronicle of Viena” mentions Toma and Dionisie, voivodes from Transylvania, as having urged Charles I Robert to war against Basarab, and it was a Romanian voievod, Nicholas, who saved the king's life at the Battle of Posada. In 1343, Bogdan “"Vaivoda Valachorum de Maramorosio"” had revolted against the Hungarian king and established the independent principality of Moldavia, 1359.

In 1364, Hungarian attempts to stabilize their kingdom failed. Louis I of Hungary (Louis the Great), taking Bogdan's infidelity as motive, started a policy of reprisals aimed at cleansing the state structure of Eastern Orthodox nobility, judged to be heretical and faithless. Thus, according to the Decree of Torda, acceding or belonging to nobility was conditioned on subscribing to Roman Catholicism. In order to keep their status, numerous RomanianFact|date=April 2008 noble families converted to Catholicism: HunyadyFact|date=April 2008, KökényesiFact|date=April 2008, NemesFact|date=April 2008, BánfyFact|date=April 2008, Kendeffy (former Candea)Fact|date=April 2008, the Dragfy (former Dragoş)Fact|date=April 2008, Karácsony (former Craciun)Fact|date=April 2008, Szaplonczay (former 'Nobiles wolahay de Soponcza')Fact|date=April 2008, Szarvaszarai (former 'Nobiles Wolahay de Zarwazo')Fact|date=April 2008, etc.Since the vast majority of the Romanians maintained their Orthodox confession, they lost any possibility of being politically represented and to maintain their Estate.

In the Bobâlna revolt of 1437, Romanian and Hungarian peasants, the petty nobility and burghers from Kolozsvár, rebelled against their feudal masters and proclaimed their own Estate ("universitas hungarorum et valachorum": "the estate of Hungarians and Romanians"). The Transylvanian nobility, the Saxon burghers, and the Székely formed an alliance of mutual aid against the peasants. By 1438, the rebellion was crushed. Afterwards, these three Estates formed the Unio Trium Nationum, jointly pledging to defend their privileges against any power except that of Hungary's king. The Union ensured that the peasants, continued to be excluded from the political and social life of Transylvania.


*In the late 12th century, a part of the territory of Wallachia was part of the Second Bulgarian Empire ruled by the Asen dynasty. (See Vlach-Bulgar Rebellion).
* 1241 - A Persian chronicle mentions several rulers from Wallachia such Bezerenbam, Mishelav and the country of Ilaut.
* 1247 - Litovoi becomes a Voivode on the right bank of the Olt River; on the left bank, in Wallachia proper, Seneslau ruled.
*Legend says that in 1290 Radu Negru-Vodă, a leading Romanian nobleman, left Făgăraş in southern Transylvania with a group of nobles and founded "Ţara Românească" (Romanian language for "Romanian Land") on the lands between the southern Carpathians and the Danube. Prince Basarab I of Wallachia (ca. 1310-1352/53), despite defeating Hungarian King Charles I Robert at the Battle of Posada in 1330, acknowledged Kingdom of Hungary's suzerainty in his early ages of ruling.


* 1000–1100AD: A runic inscription from the eleventh century, the Sjönhem Stone, found in Sjönhem parish on Gotland Island, Sweden, recalls the murder of the Scandinavian traveller Rothfos by "Blakumen" ("Vlachs") as he was going to the Black Sea and Constantinople.
* In the Nibelungenlied (“Song of the Nibelung”) [ [ The Nibelungenlied - Twenty-Second Adventure - How Etzel kept the Wedding-feast with Kriemhild (by George Henry Needler, Translator) ] ] (about 1190/1200) the existence of a Romanian state and people is clearly expressed.
* 1153-1187 Russian and Polish chronicles present the Vlachs warring with the Galician knyaz Yaroslav Osmomysl.
* In 1164 Andronicus I Comnenus was taken prisoner by Vlachs, on his way the prince of Kiev, Yaroslav (Nicetas Choniates).
* The "Blakumannaland" is mentioned in the twelfth century by the Icelandic chronicler Snorri Sturlson (1179-1224).
* In 1231, led by a certain Ştefan, they become allies of Andrew II of Hungary in his attempt to reconquer Galicia.
* 1223 - the Brodnici took part in the Battle of Kalka.
* 1241 - The Great Mongol Invasion.
* In 1247, a Franciscan monk, Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, gives an account the existence of the Vlach voivode, Olaha.
* 1308 - Ottocar of Styria mentions a Wallachian state and ruler from over the Carpathians. The Polish chronicler Jan Długosz mentioned these Wallachians, in a joined military expedition with Poland, against the Margraviate of Brandenburg in 1342. In a letter of 1340 of some Minorite monks to Pope Benedict XII, this state is mentioned as having its center at Siret.
* 1321 - According to the Arab chronicler Abulfeda, today's southern Ukraine (Budjak) and Bessarabia was part of “Al-Ualak” (the Country of the Vlachs) who, helped by Dobrotitsa (1348-1386), warred with the Genoese over the Danube and Dniester ports.
* 1351 - The "Descriptio Moldaviae" of Dimitrie Cantemir accounts the legend of the Romanian voivode named Dragoş from Maramureş who established a Romanian state in what was to become the Principality of Moldavia.
* 1359 - 1365 – Establishment of Ţara Moldovei (Moldavia): Bogdan I entered Moldavia from Maramureş, deposed Dragoş's successors and rebelled against Louis the Great, the king of Hungary and Poland, establishing an independent Moldavia.

Wallachia and Moldavia steadily gained strength in the 14th century, a peaceful and prosperous time throughout southeastern Europe. The Eastern Orthodox patriarch in Constantinople established an ecclesiastical seat in Wallachia and appointed a metropolitan. The church's recognition confirmed Wallachia's status as a principality, and Wallachia freed itself from Angevin suzerainty in 1380.

The princes of both Wallachia and Moldavia held almost absolute power; only the prince had the power to grant land and confer noble rank. Assemblies of nobles, and higher clergy elected princes for life, and the absence of a succession law created a fertile environment for intrigue. From the 14th century to the 17th, the principalities' histories are replete with overthrows of princes by rival factions, often supported by foreigners. The boyars were exempt from taxation except for levies on the main sources of agricultural wealth. Although the peasants had to pay a portion of their output in kind to the local nobles, they were never, despite their inferior position, and unlike serfs in many other parts of Europe, deprived of the right to own property or to resettle.

Ottoman Suzerainty

In the 14th century, the Ottoman Turks expanded their empire from Anatolia to the Balkans. They crossed the Bosphorus in 1352 and, in 1389, engaged the Serbs (and assorted Balkan Christian allies) in the epic Battle of Kosovo at Kosovo Polje, located in what is now Kosovo. Although the battle was technically a draw, Serbia was effectively left powerless to raise another formidable force. Tradition holds that Wallachian Prince Mircea cel Bătrân ("Mircea the Old", 1386–1418) sent his forces to Kosovo to fight beside the Serbs; soon after the battle Sultan Bayezid marched on Wallachia and imprisoned Mircea until he pledged to pay tribute. [ The Ottoman Invasions] in U.S. Library of Congress country study on Romania (1989, Edited by Ronald D. Bachman).] Mircea even gained a certain influence south of the Danube, but the 1393 conquest of the Bulgarian kingdom of Tarnovo by Bayezid I put an end to that trans-Danubian influence. One year later, Bayezid resumed his campaigns, crossing the Danube and entering Wallachia, but his army suffered a clear defeat on 10 October 1394 at the Battle of Rovine.Fact|date=February 2007 Under a 1395 pact of alliance with King Sigismund of Hungary, Mircea enlisted his forces in a crusade called by Sigismund. The campaign ended miserably: the Turks routed Sigismund's forces in 1396 at the Battle of Nicopolis in present-day Bulgaria.

Encouraged by this victory, the Ottomans again invaded Wallachia the following year; Mircea again repelled the invasion, forcing the Turkish army back across the Danube. A further Ottoman attempt in 1400 also ended disastrously for the Turks.Fact|date=February 2007

In 1402, Wallachia gained a respite from Ottoman pressure as the Mongol leader Timur (also known as Tamerlane) attacked the Ottomans from the east, killed the Sultan, and sparked a civil war. Thus, Mircea could restore his rule over the province of Dobrogea, across the Danube.Fact|date=February 2007 When peace returned, the Ottomans renewed their assault on Wallachia. Toward the end of his reign, in 1417, facing growing Ottoman pressure, Mircea agreed to pay Sultan Mehmed I an annual tribute of 3000 gold coins, buying the independence of his principality by becoming a tributary.

After Mircea's death in 1418, Wallachia and Moldavia slid into decline. Succession struggles, Polish and Hungarian intrigues, and corruption produced a parade of eleven princes in twenty-five years and weakened the principalities as the Ottoman threat waxed. In 1444 the Ottomans routed European forces in the Battle of Varna in what is now Bulgaria. When Constantinople succumbed in 1453, the Ottomans cut off Genoese and Venetian galleys from Black Sea ports, trade ceased, and the Romanian principalities' isolation deepened, although unlike the Balkan territories to their south they escaped direct Ottoman rule.

At this time of near desperation John Hunyadi became regent of Hungary. Hunyadi, a hero of the Ottoman wars, mobilized Hungary against the Turks, equipping a mercenary army funded by the first tax ever levied on Hungary's nobles. He scored a resounding victory over the Turks in the Siege of Belgrade (1456), but died of plague soon after the battle.

Vlad III Dracula (a.k.a. Vlad Ţepeş, Vlad the Impaler) was three times on Wallachia's throne: 1448, 1456-1462 and 1476. He hated the Turks and defied the sultan by refusing to pay tribute. In 1461 Hamsa Pasha tried to lure Vlad into a trap, but the Wallachian prince discovered the deception, captured Hamsa and his men, impaled them on wooden stakes, and abandoned them. Sultan Mehmed II later invaded Wallachia and drove Vlad into exile in Hungary. Although Vlad eventually returned to Wallachia, he died shortly thereafter, and Wallachia's resistance to the Ottomans softened.

Moldavia and its prince, Ştefan cel Mare (Stephen the Great) (ruled 1457-1504), were the principalities' last hope of repelling the Ottoman threat. Stephen drew on Moldavia's peasantry to raise a 55,000-man army and repelled the invading forces of Hungary's King Mátyás Corvinus, at the Battle of Baia, in a daring night attack. Stephen's army invaded Wallachia in 1471 and defeated the Turks when they retaliated in 1473 and 1474. In January 1475, the Ottoman Empire suffered their worst defeat to that day at the Battle of Vaslui, where Stephen inflicted a decisive victory, leaving 45,000 Ottoman casualties. After these victories, Stephen implored Pope Sixtus IV to forge a Christian alliance against the Turks. The Pope replied with a letter awarding Stephen the title of "Athleta Christi" ("an Athlete of Christ"), but he did not heed Stephen's calls for Christian unity. During the last decades of Stephen's reign, the Turks increased the pressure on Moldavia. They captured key Black Sea ports in 1484 and burned Moldavia's capital, Suceava, in 1485. Stephen rebounded with a victory in 1486 but thereafter confined his efforts to secure Moldavia's independence to the diplomatic arena. Frustrated by vain attempts to unite the West against the Turks, Stephen, on his deathbed, reportedly told his son to submit to the Turks if they offered an honorable suzerainty. Succession struggles weakened Moldavia after his death.

The event which would put a total end to the privileges of the Romanians of Transylvania and to their organization into knezates and voivodates, was the peasants' revolt lead by the Székely György Dózsa, against the Hungarian landlords. In 1514, greedy nobles and an ill-planned crusade sparked a widespread peasant revolt in Hungary and Transylvania. Well-armed peasants under György Dózsa sacked estates across the country. Despite strength of numbers, however, the peasants were disorganized and suffered a decisive defeat at Temesvár. The repression by John Zapolya was terrible (as attested in the poem "Stavromachia" by Stephanus Taurinus of Olmutz [Cited in Matila Ghyka, "A Documented Chronology of Roumanian History", Oxford: B. H. Blackwell Ltd. 1941. Extracted online at [] . Accessed 2 April 2006.] ), and the small Romanian voivodates and their privileges were suppressed by the Diet of the same year, because Romanians had, on the whole, supported the revolt against Magyar nobility, especially in Máramaros.Fact|date=February 2007 Dózsa and the other rebel leaders were tortured and executed. After the revolt, the Hungarian nobles enacted laws that condemned the serfs to eternal bondage and increased their work obligations. With the serfs and nobles deeply alienated from each other and jealous magnates challenging the king's power, Hungary was vulnerable to outside aggression. The Ottomans stormed Nándorfehérvár in 1521, routed a feeble Hungarian army at the Battle of Mohács in 1526, and conquered Buda (which, united with Pest, constitutes modern-day Budapest) in 1541. They installed a pasha to rule over central Hungary; Transylvania became an autonomous principality under Ottoman suzerainty; and the Habsburgs assumed control over fragments of northern and western Hungary. Once the Ottomans conquered Buda, the Porte exacted even heavier tribute to Wallachia and Moldavia. In addition, the Turks began to ask relatives of the Wallachian and Moldavian ruling princes as hostages in Constantinople, in order to force the loyalty of the princes. Few princes died a natural death, but they lived enthroned amid great luxury.

Michael the Brave

The Romanians' last hero before the Turks and Greeks closed their stranglehold on the principalities was Wallachia's Michael the Brave (Mihai Viteazul) (1558-1601, ruled 1593-1601). Michael bribed his way at the Porte to become prince. Once enthroned, however, he rounded up extortionist Turkish lenders, locked them in a building, and burned it to the ground. His forces then overran several key Turkish fortresses. Michael's ultimate goal was complete independence, but in 1598 he pledged fealty to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. A year later, Michael captured Transylvania, and his victory incited Transylvania's Romanian peasants to rebel. Michael, more interested in endearing himself to Transylvania's nobles than in supporting defiant serfs, suppressed the rebels and swore to uphold the Union of Three Nations. Despite the prince's pledge, the nobles still distrusted him.

Then in 1600 Michael conquered Moldavia. For the first time, a single Romanian prince ruled over all Romanians, and the Romanian people sensed the first stirring of a national identity. Michael's success startled Rudolf. The emperor incited Transylvania's nobles to revolt against the prince, and Poland simultaneously overran Moldavia. Michael consolidated his forces in Wallachia, apologized to Rudolf, and agreed to join Rudolf's general, Giorgio Basta, in a campaign to regain Transylvania from recalcitrant Hungarian nobles. However, after the victory, Michael was assassinated on the order of General Basta. His short-lived unification of the Romanian lands later inspired the Romanians to struggle for cultural and political unity. [Primarily following [ The Ottoman Invasions] in U.S. LOC country study (1989), although with reference to Michael's death at Basta's hands, the LOC study describes him as "executed…for alleged treachery"; [Pop 1996] uses the word "assassinate".]

ee also

*List of Wallachian rulers (up to 1859)
*List of Moldavian rulers (up to 1859)
*List of Transylvanian rulers (up to 1918)

< The Dark Ages| History of Romania | Early Modern Times >



* Pop, Ioan Aurel, "Istoria Transilvaniei medievale: de la etnogeneza românilor până la Mihai Viteazul" ("Histori of medieval Translyvania, from the ethno-genesis the Romanians until Mihai Viteazul"), Cluj-Napoca.

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