Battle of Baia (December 1467)

The army of Stephen the Great torched the city and put the invaders to flight. Scene from the Chronicle of the Hungarians (1488), by János Thuróczi.

Map of the battle, showing the Moldavian attack.

In January 1465, Stephen the Great initiated a new attack against Kilia, this time a successful one. After a one-day siege, on 24 January the fortresses surrendered, and Stephen the Great appointed two Castellans who were entrusted to defend the citadel from the “pagan nations.” This expression is used in documents to mean the Turks and the Tartars, and in this case it had to do with the political context, which differed from 1462. Kilia was under the control of the prince of Wallachia, Radu the Handsome (1462-1474), who had good relations with Hungary, but was also loyal to Sultan Mehmed II. Another chronicle mentions a fight on 28 January 1465, with Radu’s army, who received important Ottoman military aid. The prince of Moldavia won and ordered the prisoners, who were more than 200, to be impaled. 152 Dlugosz confirms that the fortress of Kilia had been controlled by the prince of Wallachia and that its conquest by Stephen displeased the sultan. Dlugosz also mentions King Casimir’s diplomatic help. According to the chronicler, Casimir addressed a letter to the inhabitants of Kilia which influenced their decision to surrender the fortress to the Moldavian prince. Although the sultan was ready for an expedition of revenge, the payment of the tribute and the gifts offered by the Moldavian emissary made him accept the control of Moldavia and Poland over Kilia. 153 The king of Hungary reacted differently to the events. In 1465, an emissary of the sultan was sent to Buda to conclude a peace treaty. Although officially the Ottoman offer was rejected and King Matthias continued to pose as a devoted crusader and to receive stipends from the pope, it is most likely that a secret agreement was concluded between the parties, extended later on until 1473.154 Ensured on the Ottoman side, King Matthias initiated an expedition in Moldavia with the purpose of reinstalling Peter Aaron and to bring Moldavia under Hungarian suzerainty. The Battle of Baia, from December 1467, ended inconclusively and both sides claimed victory. Wounded, King Matthias was forced to retreat from Moldavia and the campaign’s indirect result was a strengthening of the Moldavian-Polish relations.


After Stephen conquered the Chilia fortress in 1465, conflicts between Moldavia and Hungary began to arise. The Hungarian king, Matei (Mathias) Corvin (son of Iancu of Hunedoara, Belgrade’s successful defender), launched a campaign to drive the Moldavian prince from his country, forcing the entrance into Oituzului Valley, in November 1467. The Hungarian army occupied the town of Târgul Trotus, on 19 November and continued to advance through the city of Bacău, toward the Roman city. Stephen’s rider detachments harassed the stiff Hungarian army, which then started suffering from a lack of supplies. On 14 December 1467, Matei Corvin’s army occupied the city of Baia, and during the night of 14-15 December, Stephen ordered several locations of the city to be set on fire. Then, the Moldavians started attacking from multiple directions simultaneously. Wounded by arrows, Matei Corvin succeededed in breaking the surrounding Moldavians by using a shock detachment. He then retreated beyond the mountains in Transylvania. Many of the survivors of that fiery night in Baia were chased and killed by Stephen’s soldiers.

Moldavian Spearmen

Moldavian Hansari


Established during Stephen’s reign, the army was composed of the personal guard, a powerful and impressive special unit composed of 3,000 courtiers, most of them footmen (similar to janissaries who guarded their sultan) of the fortress guard troops (an entity composed of hirelings who were paid a monthly wage and meat and bread rations) and the border guard troops, composed of the people living along the borders who were awarded certain service privileges and commanded by marele vornic.

In wartime, Stephen was able to gather an army of 60,000 people, most of them riders. His military forces consisted of the peacetime army; boyars, or noble riders (similar to the Ottoman spahis, but having a higher motivation to fight and a stronger cohesiveness); and servant riders or footmen (called dărăbani). To these forces were added the “spoils” units, so called because the prince had promised them the items plundered from the enemy in case of victory. This army was composed of units of peasants and hirelings.

A warning and mobilization system was also set up for crisis situations. The warning was the prince’s call, and following it, the princely peacetime couriers, or ocălari, would speedily ride around the country on its main roads, giving notice to everybody. Ringing church bells and fires lit on hilltops would disseminate the call to every corner of the land. Men who were able to fight would grab their arms and horses and gather under their flags at predetermined meeting points. From there, columns of peasant fighters led by pârcălabi would head to the gathering post established by the prince.


The Moldavian army’s armament was designated both for hand-to-hand fighting (maces, hatchets, sickles, scythes, spears, and swords made in the country) and distance fighting (200 meter-range bows; between sixteen and twenty-four arrow quivers; firing weapons like small-caliber guns and cannons made of cherry wood, strengthened with iron or bronze rings and using stone or iron cannonballs made in Transylvania (Braşov) or Poland (Lemberg).

Stephen the Great hired armorers and craftsmen to help with the local production of the bows, arrows, and swords with which he equipped his peasant fighters. The peasant fighters were responsible for bringing their own arms into battle when they were summoned. The Moldavians’ military dress was the same as that of their ancient ancestors, and the punishment for the use of foreign clothing and arms was death.


During the reign of Stephen the Great, the fortresses were ruled by pârcălabi,-officials who had military, administrative, and judicial authority. Thus they could be found on the border fortresses like Soroca, Tetina, and Hotin (built to counter the Poles’ attacks from the north); Chilia and Crăciuna (on the southern border to counter the Ottomans’ and Wallachians’ attacks); and Cetatea Albă, Tighina, and Orhei (on the eastern border to counter the Tatars’ attacks). The western border was secured by Cetatea Neamţului, Suceava’s fortress, and the Carpathians.

Stephen the Great is also the one who incorporated cannons into the fortress defense system, placing them on the country’s strategic access routes. Around the fortresses were built brick and stone external walls in the form of a polygon; they had towers at the corners to deflect cannonballs. The fortresses were also protected by grooves that were five meters deep-large enough to provide protection-and sometimes filled with water.