Basarab I

Basarab I the Founder
Basarab Întemeietorul
Voivode of Wallachia
Basarab I. (fresco in Argeş)
Reign c. 1310/1319–1352
(maybe with Nicolae Alexandru from c. 1345)
Born c. 1310/1319
Birthplace Unknown
Died 1352
Place of death Câmpulung
Buried Argeş
Predecessor (?) Thocomerius
Successor Nicolae Alexandru
Consort Lady Margareta
Issue Theodora, Empress consort of Bulgaria
Nicolae Alexandru of Wallachia
Dynasty Basarab
Father Thocomerius of Wallachia
Mother Unknown

Basarab I the Founder (Romanian: Basarab Întemeietorul, also Basarab I the Great, Basarab cel Mare;[1] Romanian pronunciation: [basaˈrab]Template:IPA audio link) was voivode[1][2][3] or prince[1] of Wallachia (c. 1310/1319 – 1352).[4] His rise seems to have taken place in the context of the war between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Orthodox states in the north of the Balkan Peninsula.[3] Around 1324[3] Basarab became a vassal of King Charles I of Hungary (1308–1342), but later the king called him ‘unfaithful’ on the pretext that Basarab had occupied crown territories.[2]

Basarab I's name was originally Basarabai and lost the ending -a when it was borrowed into Romanian. The name is of Cuman or Pecheneg[5] origin and most likely meant "father ruler". Basar was the present participle of the verb "to rule", derivatives attested in both old and modern Kypchak languages. The Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga believed the second part of the name, -aba ("father"), to be an honorary title, as recognizable in many Cuman names, such as Terteroba, Arslanapa, and Ursoba.

In 1330 King Charles I launched an expedition into Wallachia to restore his authority over that area.[1] On November 12, after three days of fighting, Basarab defeated the Hungarian forces[1] at the battle of Posada.[4] The battle marked the end of Hungarian rule and the appearance of the first independent Romanian principality.[2]

Basarab founded the first Romanian ruling dynasty which was named after him.[4]

From the mid-14th century onwards his name appears in Serbian, Hungarian, Moldavian and Polish sources as the name of Wallachia, and from the 15th century as a name for the territory between the lower reaches of the rivers Prut and Dniester.[6] Bessarabia became the name of the whole land between the Prut and the Dniester (i.e., today’s Republic of Moldova) only after the Russian conquest of the area in 1812.[6]


Basarab was the son of a local potentate called Thocomerius whose status cannot be specified.[3] Nonetheless, Thocomerius was well known at the Hungarian Court.[7] Several Romanian historians (e.g., Vlad Georgescu) suggest that Thocomerius followed Bărbat[2] (the latter had been mentioned in a letter of grant of 8 January 1285 issued by King Ladislaus IV of Hungary as the brother and successor of Litovoi, a voivode in modern Oltenia).[6]

Basarab was expressly stated to be a Romanian (Vlach); King Charles I of Hungary speaks of him as our unfaithful Vlach’.[note 1][6]

The linguist Sorin Paliga suggests that - despite many opposite hypotheses - his name may be one of the Thracian anthroponomical relics in Romanian, since the root bas-, bes- is well attested in Thracian (cf. Albanian besë ‘creed, faith’).[8] He thinks that the name may be the continuation of the similar Thracian names (e.g., Bassaros, Bassos, Bassus) and may be connected to Bassarái (a garment of Bacchus priestesses).[8]

Vassal of the King of Hungary

Toward the middle of the 13th century voivodates dependent on the Kingdom of Hungary began to form on the territories of future Wallachia, but evidence shows that they soon sought independence from the Hungarian crown.[2] The trend toward unification seems to have begun with Litovoi who was at war with the Hungarians in 1277 and was killed in battle.[2]

The Kingdom of Hungary underwent a strong political crisis at the end of the Árpád dynasty.[3] The Golden Horde’s domination also decreased in the territories between the Carpathian Mountains and the river Danube at the end of the 13th century.[3] These enabled the states in the sub-Carpathian regions to consolidate their autonomy and to progressively extend their authority over the Danube plains.[3]

Basarab was a vassal of King Charles I of Hungary, who called him[2] ‘our voivode of Wallachia’ in a diploma issued on 26 July 1324.[note 2][3] He became the king’s vassal probably after 1321, because it was towards the end of 1321 or the beginning of 1322 when the king personally lead a campaign to the Banat that resulted in his recapture of the castle of Mehadia from the rebel Vejteh family.[6] Basarab, however, was already referred to as ‘Basarab of Wallachia, unfaithful to the king’s Holy Crown’ in a diploma issued on 18 June 1325.[note 3][6] The diploma also narrates that a certain Stephen, son of Parabuh, a Cuman count in Hungary, in the course of a dispute, stated that Basarab’s strength exceeded that of the Hungarian king himself.[6]

The Hungarian historian István Vásáry suggests that the king must have referred to him as a rebellious vassal because Basarab had occupied the Banate of Severin, a province of the Kingdom of Hungary on the territory of modern Oltenia.[6] The Romanian historian Tudor Sălăgean thinks that by 1325 Basarab had already been in possession of the strategic fortress of Severin as a result of a peace treaty between Hungary and Wallachia in 1324.[3] Nevertheless, between 1324 and 1330 no reference can be found in the sources to any ban of Severin, so it must have been during these years that Basarab seized the province.[6]

The fact that Pope John XXII (1316-1334) addressed Basarab, in 1327, as a ‘devoted Catholic prince’ and praised his actions against the unfaithful seems to show some collaboration between the Romanian voivode and the Catholic world, but the precise details are missing.[note 4][3]

The Battle of Posada and its background

Main article: Battle of Posada

Basarab gave his daughter in marriage to Ivan Alexander, a nephew of Tzar Michael Shishman of Bulgaria (1323–1330) who was an enemy of the Hungarian king.[6] In a document issued on 27 March 1329, Basarab was mentioned among King Charles I’s enemies alongside the Bulgarians, the Serbs and the Tatars who constantly attacked the Hungarian confines.[6] In 1330, Basarab took part in the military campaign Tzar Michael Sishman launched against Serbia, which ended on July 18 with the Serb victory at Velbazhd.[3]

Immediately following the Serbian defeat of the Bulgarians and Romanians at Velbazhd, King Charles I made an expedition against Basarab.[2] When the Banate of Severin was retaken, Basarab offered to pay yearly tribute and 7,000 silver marks in compensation, and to recognize the king’s sovereignty; but his offers were rejected, and the king advanced into Wallachia as far as Curtea de Argeş.[2] However, the king was eventually forced to withdraw toward Transylvania without having engaged the Romanian army in battle,[2] because difficulties rose in the provision of food supplies.[6]

But a large contingent of Wallachian soldiers was waiting for the Hungarians at Posada, and as they were winding their way through a narrow valley, the Hungarians found themselves trapped.[1] On November 12, after three days of fighting,[1] the Hungarians were soundly defeated, the king managing with difficulty to escape with his life.[2]

The Independent Wallachia

The victory of 1330 sanctioned the independence of Wallachia from the Hungarian crown and also essentially altered its international position.[3] Only a few month after his great victory, in February, 1331, Basarab contributed to the establishment of his son-in-law, Ivan Alexander on the throne of the tsars of Tarnovo.[3] In 1331-32, Wallachian troops supported the Bulgarians in a victorious war against Byzantium.[3] During the same period Basarab seems to have regained the fortress of Severin.[3]

A new Hungarian offensive took place between 1343 and 1345, after King Charles’ death and the coronation of his son King Louis I.[3] This time, Basarab lost the fortress of Severin and his son, Nicolae Alexandru, probably associated to the throne, accepted paying the homage of vassalage to the king of Hungary.[3]

Marriage and issue

His wife’s name was possibly Anna.[9]

See also




  • Georgescu, Vlad (Author) – Calinescu, Matei (Editor) – Bley-Vroman, Alexandra (Translator): The Romanians – A History; Ohio State University Press, 1991, Columbus; ISBN 0-8142-0511-9
  • Klepper, Nicolae: Romania: An Illustrated History; Hippocrene Books, 2005, New York; ISBN 0-7818-0935-5[unreliable source?]
  • Sălăgean, Tudor: Romanian Society in the Early Middle Ages (9th-10th Centuries); in: Ioan-Aurel Pop – Ioan Bolovan (Editors): History of Romania: Compendium; Romanian Cultural Institute (Center for Transylvanian Studies), 2006, Cluj-Napoca; ISBN 978-973-7784-12-4
  • Giurescu, Constantin C.: "Istoria Romanilor"; All Educațional , București, 2003
  • Treptow, Kurt W. – Popa, Marcel: Historical Dictionary of Romania (entries ‘Basarab I’, ‘Posada, Battle of (9–12 November 1330)’, and ‘Wallachia (Ţara Românească)’); The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1996, Lanham (Maryland, US) & Folkestone (UK); ISBN 0-8108-3179-1
  • Vásáry, István: Cumans and Tatars: Oriental Military in the Pre-Ottoman Balkans, 1185-1365; Cambridge University Press, 2005, Cambridge; ISBN 0-521-83756-1
  • Matei Cazacu și Dan Ioan Mureșan, Ioan Basarab, un domn român la începuturile Țării Românești, Ed. Cartier, Chișinău, 2013.
Preceded by
(?) Thocomerius
Voivode of Wallachia
c. 1310/1319–1352
Succeeded by
Nicolae Alexandru

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