Dimitrie Cantemir

Dimitrie Cantemir (October 26, 1673 – August 21, 1723) was twice ruling Prince of Moldavia (in March-April 1693 and in 1710–1711). He was also a prolific man of letters – philosopher, historian, composer, musicologist, linguist, ethnographer, and geographer. His name is spelled Dimitrie Cantemir in Romanian, Dmitri Konstantinovich Kantemir in Russian, Dimitri Kantemiroğlu in Turkish, Dymitr Kantemir in Polish and Demetre Cantemir in several other languages.

Born in Silişteni (renamed Dimitrie Cantemir and now located in Vaslui County, Romania), Dimitrie was the son of Moldavian Voivode Constantin Cantemir (and brother to Antioh Cantemir, himself Prince), of the low-ranking boyar Cantemireşti family. His mother, Ana Bantăş, was a learned woman of noble origins. (Cantemir never forgot his paternal ancestry, but while in Constantinople because of his name similarity locals inspired him to pretended to descend from Khan Temir, an early 17th century khan of the Budjak Tatars). His education began at home, where he learned Greek and Latin and acquired a profound knowledge of the classics. Between 1687 and 1710 he lived in forced exile in Istanbul, where he learned Turkish and studied the history of the Ottoman Empire at the Patriarchate's Greek Academy, where he also composed music.

In 1693, he succeeded his father as Prince of Moldavia – in name only, as the Ottomans appointed Constantin Duca, favoured by Wallachian Prince and, despite many shared goals, forever rival of the Cantemirs Constantin Brâncoveanu; his bid for the throne was successful only in 1710, after two rules by his brother (whom he represented as envoy in the Ottoman capital). He had ruled only for less than a year when he joined Peter the Great in his campaign against the Ottoman Empire and placed Moldavia under Russian suzerainty, after a secret agreement signed in Lutsk. Defeated by the Turks in the battle of Stănileşti (July 18–July 22, 1711), Cantemir sought refuge in Russia, where he and his family finally settled (he was accompanied by a sizeable boyar retinue, including the chronicler Ioan Neculce). There, he was awarded the title of Knyaz (Prince) of the Russian Empire by Peter the Great and received the title of Reichsfürst (Prince) of the Holy Roman Empire from Charles VI. He died at his Dmitrovka estate near Oryol in 1723 (on the very day he was awarded the Roman-German princely title). In 1935, his remains were carried to Iaşi.

In 1714 Cantemir became a member of the Royal Academy of Berlin. Between 1711 and 1719 he wrote his most important creations. Cantemir was known as one of the greatest linguists of his time, speaking and writing eleven languages, and being well versed in Oriental scholarship. His oeuvre is voluminous, diverse, and original; although some of his scientific writings contain unconfirmed theories and inaccuracies, his expertise, sagacity, and groundbreaking researches are widely acknowledged. The best known is his History of the Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire. This volume circulated throughout Europe in manuscript for a number of years. It was finally printed in 1734 in London, and later it was translated and printed in Germany and France. It remained the seminal work on the Ottoman Empire up to the middle of the 19th century – notably, it was used as reference by Edward Gibbon for his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Afterwards, the work was largely contested, for some of its sources were doubtful.

In 1714, at the request of the Royal Academy in Berlin, Cantemir wrote the first geographical, ethnographical and economic description of Moldavia, Descriptio Moldaviae. As many of his books it circulated first in manuscript and was only later published in Germany (first in 1769 in a geographical magazine, and then in 1771 the first edition as a book). Around the same time he prepared a manuscript map of Moldavia, the first real map of the country. It contained a lot of geographical detail as well as administrative information. Printed in 1737 in the Netherlands, it has been used by all cartographers of the time as an inspiration for their own maps of Moldavia. Other writings: the first critical history of Romania as a whole, under the name of Hronicul vechimii a romano-moldo-valahilor – aprox. "Chronicle of the durability of Romans-Moldavians-Wallachians" (1719–1722); the first Romanian language novel, the cryptic Historia Hieroglyphica (1705), to which he furnished a key, and in which the principal persons are represented by mythological beasts; A philosophical treatise, written in Romanian and also in Greek, translated into Arabic, under the title Divanul sau Gâlceava Înţeleptului cu lumea sau Giudeţul sufletului cu trupul (Iaşi, 1698) ("The Divan or The Wise Man's Parley with the World or The Judgement of the Soul with the Body"); an introduction to Islam written for Europeans, and a biography of Jan Baptist van Helmont. Due to his many esteemed works he won great renown at the high courts of Europe. His name is among those who were considered to be the brightest minds of the world on a plaque at the Library of Sainte-Genevieve in Paris, next to those of Leibnitz, Newton, Piron, and other great thinkers.