Bogdan the One-Eyed in Lviv & in History – From Medieval Moldavia With Lust & Luck (Lviv: The History of One City Part 37)

They don’t make despots the way they used to. While doing research on the Bernadine Church (Greek Catholic Church of St. Andrew) in Lviv, I stumbled upon a fascinating piece of information. In 1509 the monastery – which stood on the site of the present day church – was pillaged by none other than Bogdan III, the One Eyed. That fact is a bit ambiguous though. To say that Mr. One-Eyed pillaged the monastery is not quite correct. It would be more accurate to say that the army under his command did the pillaging, though Bogdan III’s decision to allow it was the single biggest factor in making the theft and plunder possible. During the 15th and 16th centuries Lviv suffered through many sieges and was sacked on multiple occasions. Such incidents brought foreign characters to the city, the likes of which the burghers, merchants and citizens of the city had rarely if ever seen. No wonder the Old City was surrounded with such thick walls. These offered protection from dreaded invaders such as Bogdan the One-Eyed, a man remembered more for his looks than his actions.

Bogdan III the One-Eyed - fresco found in St. Nicolae Domnesc Church in Iasi, Romania

Bogdan III the One-Eyed – fresco found in St. Nicolae Domnesc Church in Iasi, Romania

Blind Luck – Of Martial and Marital Disputes
Just who was Bogdan III the One-Eyed?  He was from Moldavia, a principality between the eastern Carpathian Mountains and the Dneister River, an area that is today part of northeastern Romania and the nation of Moldova.  From 1504 to 1517 he was the Voivode of Moldavia. . Voivode is a Slavic title, denoting a military or political leader. Bodgan the One-Eyed was both. He was from a long line of leaders known as the House of Bogdan-Musat that had ruled Moldavia since the mid-14th century. First in the line was none other than Bogdan the Good. The line produced a range of Voivodes who had Good, Great, Younger and even Locust attached to their names. The house was finished off quite poetically by a Terrible. Such names most often note how someone was seen retrospectively, rather than at the time. This was not the case with Bogdan III the One-Eyed. As his name implied, he was blind in one eye. This was also why he went by the name of Bogdan the Blind. Such a handicap was seen as a bad omen if it was a congenital defect. This would usually disqualify the person from ruling. The opposite was true with Bogdan. He had likely suffered his disability in one of the numerous battles he fought in. This likely made him more revered as a leader in a martial society.

The genesis of Bogdan’s invasion of southern Poland and resulting occupation of Lviv was a marital rather than a martial dispute. Twice Bogdan had asked for the hand of Elisabeth, sister of the Polish King Alexander the Jagiellonian, in marriage. Twice he was denied. This despite promises of territory to the Poles. Bogdan was unable to take no for an answer. He led his forces on raids into Polish territory. This led to an agreement between Alexander and Bogdan. In exchange for favorable treatment of Roman Catholicism in the religiously Orthodox Moldavia, Bogdan would wed Elisabeth. Unfortunately for Bogdan, Alexander died before the marriage could take place. The next Polish King, Sigismund the Old, refused to honor the agreement. This sent Bogdan on the warpath, a journey that eventually led him into Lviv and then deeper into Polish territory. Near the great fortress of Khotyn on the Dneister River in the autumn of 1509, Bogdan’s forces were dealt a devastating defeat. A negotiated peace was signed at the beginning of 1510. This gave the Moldavians some economic and political benefits. In return Bogdan dropped his marriage claims.

Putna Monastery - burial place of Bogdan III the One-Eyed

Putna Monastery – burial place of Bogdan III the One-Eyed (Credit: Petr Sporer)

The Ugly Truth – Bogdan the Plunderer & Dealmaker
A fresco of Bogdan that once adorned the walls of St. Nicolae Domnesc Church in the city of Iasi (located in present  day northeastern Romania) does lend credence to the belief that he was not exactly handsome.  The fresco portrays him with a scruffy face, adorned with an outsized mustache and a disfigured left eye. He would have been a frightening prospect to a woman of Polish royalty. Rumors of his less than desirable looks were the main reason his offer of marriage had been canceled. One shudders to think what the citizens of Lviv must have felt when he and his army breached the city walls. The rampaging Moldavians led by a disfigured warrior. Bogdan certainly looked the part of a man who would command his force to plunder the Bernadine Monastery. In his defense, it must be stated that much of what is said about Bogdan’s reputed ugliness comes from Polish chroniclers, an inherently biased source. The old saying goes that there is someone for everyone. Historically this has been especially true if one has power, money or leads an army. Bogdan may have been unable to marry Elisabeth, but during his lifetime he had no less than three wives.

After his “marital” war disintegrated, Bogdan and the Poles became unlikely allies. The Moldavians faced the near danger of Tatar invasions. A year after Bogdan had made peace with the Poles he saw his state almost entirely overrun by the Tatars. The Poles fearing that there lands would suffer the same, provided troops to help the Moldavians fight off the invaders. Moldavia was a useful buffer state that could help protect Poland. Though the Tatars were thrown back, a couple of years later Bogdan was forced to pay financial tribute to the Ottoman Turks. He agreed to raise an army to fight with them when called upon and had to observe the Ottomans as overlords. In return Moldavia was given a high degree of autonomy. In 1517, Bogdan died. The fearsome, warring one –eyed Voivode was laid to rest at Putna Monastery, one of the most important religious sites in medieval Moldavia. His burial place can still be visited today.

Bogdan III the One-Eyed on a Moldovan postage stamp

Bogdan III the One-Eyed on a Moldovan postage stamp issued in 1997

Looking Back – A One Eyed Hero
In 1997, Moldova, one of the Europe’s newest nations issued a limited edition, commemorative stamp featuring a national hero, it featured Bogdan III the One-Eyed. The multi-colored portrait shows a handsome looking man with a full beard and flowing locks. His head is topped with a golden crown. Most conspicuously, both of Bogdan’s eyes are open and soft. Gone is any sign of disfigurement. The only hint of Bogdan’s historic handicap is in the presentation of his name as Bogdan Orbul or Bogdan Blind. For a man who had lost one eye and had such a difficult time seeing, he is looking pretty fine.

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