Referred to as Qantemir or Qantemiroglu in Turkish sources, Dimitrie Cantemir was born on 15 Rajab 1084/26 October 1673 in the town of Sǎlişteni within the borders of the Principality of Bogdan (Moldavia). He was the son of Constantin Cantemir (1096-1104/1685-93), a mercenary of peasant origin who later became the Prince (Voivode) of Bogdan. After seventeen years of service in the Polish army his father became aide-de-camp of the Wallachian prince Grigore I Ghica (d. 1085/1674). Being illiterate himself, Constantin did his best to provide a good education for his sons Antioh and Dimitrie, both of whom would later become princes of Bogdan. D.C. studied Latin, Greek, literature, and philosophy with Jeremias Cacavelas (d. > 1109/1698).
Constantin had been living in Istanbul since 1099/1688 when he died in Rajab 1104/March 1693. Upon his father’s death, young Dimitrie became the prince of Bogdan instead of his older brother Antioh, who was the legal heir. It is possible that the boyars preferred the younger prince because they thought that it would be easier to control him. D.C.’s rule lasted only three weeks, however, because of the opposition, intrigues and the large amounts of money spent by the Wallachian voivode Constantin Brancoveanu (d. 1126/1714). After he returned to Istanbul, D.C. studied at the Academy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with chief translator Alexander Mavrocordatos (d. 1111/1709), geographer Meletius (d. 1116/1714) who was the Archbishop of Arta, grammarian Iacomi (d. ?), and Chrisantos Notaras (d. 1143/1731) who later became the Patriarch of Jerusalem. D.C. also studied Turkish with Yanyalı Esad Efendi (d. 1142/1729-30) and Turkish music and tanbur with Kemani Ahmed Çelebi (d. 1132/1720) and Ṭanburi Angeliki (d. 1101/1690). D.C.’s fame as an excellent tanburi not only won him access to the households of high-ranking officials but also enabled him to entertain his friends at his palace in Ortaköy.
His guests included prominent statesmen such as the Crimean Khan’s chamberlain Davul İsmail Efendi (d. ?), his assistant treasurer Latif Çelebi (d. ?) who studied music with D.C., İbrahim Paşa (d. ?) who held the office of the treasurer during the grand vizierate of Qara Mustafa Paşa (d. 1095/1683), defterdar Firari Hasan Paşa (d. after 1113/1701-02), Rami Mehmed Paşa (d. Dhulhijja 1118/March 1707), and artists such as Levni (d. 1144/1732). D.C. was also interested in art collecting, painting, and architecture. He drew plans for several churches in Russia where he took refuge after 1123/1711.
D.C. recognized the weaknesses of the Ottoman army after he participated in the Battle of Zenta in 1108/1697 on the Ottoman side with the Moldavian forces under the command of his brother Antioh Cantemir. Following the defeat at Poltava (1121/1709) and after the Swedish King Charles XII took refuge in the Ottoman Empire, war with Russia began (1120/1710). In accordance with the suggestion of the Crimean Khan Devlet Giray (d. after 1125/1713), D.C. was elected the Voivode of Bogdan (3 Shawwal 1122/25 November 1710). According to the historian Neculce (d. 1157/1745), D.C.’s close friend Davul İsmail, the chamberlain and chief treasurer of the Khan, played a significant role in this appointment.
During his reign (3 Shawwal 1122-25 Jumada I 1123/25 November 1710-11 July 1711) D.C. became convinced that the Ottoman Empire had entered a period of decline. He switched his allegiance to the Russians. According to one report, D.C. petitioned Istanbul for permission to contact the tsar in order to learn about Russian plans and was granted total freedom by the trusting Ottoman government. This was immediately before his secret negotiations with Tsar Petro I (d. 1137/1725) regarding his defection that began in Dhulqada 1123/January 1711. Most of the boyars supported D.C.’s actions. D.C.’s conduct, however, resulted in the deaths of many Moldavians in battle and the pillage of the country by Crimean forces. Not trusting the local rulers thereafter, the Ottoman government followed a policy of direct appointment for the office of the voivode in Moldavia for nearly a century (1123-1236/1711-1821) and assigned to this position only Phanariots who were former translators at the imperial council (divan-ı hümayun).
When the Ottoman-Tatar allied forces defeated the Russian-Moldavian league at the Battle of Stanileşti-Falciu (Falçi) near the River Prut, many soldiers of the losing side fell captive to the victors. As a result of the Treaty of Prut between the Ottomans and Russians D.C. took refuge in Russia and became an advisor to the tsar. 448 boyars including Neculce as well as 4.000 Moldavian commoners followed him to Russia. In accordance with the promises he made at Lutsk, Tsar Petro I initially granted D.C. the Kharkov region. Due to the proximity of that region to the Crimea, however, he later brought D.C. to Moscow, granted him a town of 15.000, an annual salary of 6000 rubles, and two mansions in Moscow. Following his wife Casandra’s death D.C. fell ill briefly. Six years later, in 1131/1719, he married for the second time. Three years after his second marriage he went on a Caucasian expedition as Tsar Petro’s advisor on Eastern affairs and travelled to Derbend in Daghestan. In Dhulhijja 1134/September 1722, he paid a visit to Astrakhan. When his illness relapsed, however, he returned to Moscow and died there on 19 Dhulqada 1135/21 August 1723.
D.C. began writing this work in Istanbul, continued after 1711 in Russia, and completed it in 1717. After D.C.’s death, his son Antioh Cantemir managed to get the first English translation of this work published during his embassy in Paris and London (London, 1734-35). French (Paris, 1743) and German (Hamburg, 1745) translations and the second English edition of the work (London, 1756) appeared in the years that followed. The first Romanian translation was published in 1876, and two Turkish editions appeared in 1979 and 1998. All of these translations of D.C.’s work were based on its original English translation.
Up until the publication of Joseph von Hammer’s studies, the translations of D.C.’s work into Western languages constituted the principal source of reference on Ottoman history, especially for European diplomats. Hammer criticized D.C. strongly and argued that he was extremely ignorant about Ottoman language and institutions. It turns out, however, that Hammer did not have access to an accurate translation of D.C.’s work. In 1984 Virgil Candea discovered and published an autograph copy of Historia at the Houghton Library of Harvard University. According to Candea, “the comparison of the original Latin text with its English translation published by N. Tindal in 1734-35 reveals an unexpected truth, that Tindal and all translators after him who used his rendition published an abridged version of the work.” Candea found that Tindal not only omitted certain passages from the original text but also made inappropriate changes and failed to provide the quotations in Arabic letters. D.C., on the contrary, transliterated Ottoman terms in both the Arabic and Latin alphabets. The unexpected discovery of Historia’s original copy in Latin to a certain extent compensates for the dearth of documents at the Prime Minister’s Archives in Istanbul. According to Andrei Pippidi, Historia was first written in Greek between 1118-22/1706-10, completed after 1126/1714 (the date of the last event mentioned is 1717), and translated into Latin.
According to D.C., the decline (decrementa) of the Ottoman state began immediately after the last significant Ottoman territorial gain, namely the annexation of Podolya as the result of the 1672 expedition of Qamaniçe (Kamianets-Podilsky). The defeat at Zenta, which D.C. witnessed, appears to have made a strong impression on the author. Marsigli (d. 1141/1730) and Montesquieu (d. 1168/1755) propagate D.C.’s concepts of incrementa and decrementa in their works.
The Harvard manuscript of Historia in Latin, which D.C. corrected himself, contain sections entitled Praefatio (p. 1-40), Incrementa (Libres I-II; p. 1-246), Decrementa (Lib. III; p. 247-530), Annotationes (ad Lib. I-II; p. 1-279) and Annotationes (ad Lib. III; p. 1-206). The 1064-page copy consists of a 579-page main text and a 485-page section including notes on Ottoman institutions and civilization. The chronological part of the work begins with Süleyman Şah (611/1214) and continues up to the year 1123/1711.
In the long preface (Praefatio) to his work D.C. compares the Muslim and Christian calendars (Hegira cum Aera Christiana comparata) and discusses the subject of the Turkish people and their name (De gente et nomine Turcarum). Following Hvace Sadeddin (d. 1007/1599), D.C. also traces the genealogy of the House of Os̱man back to Yafes, the son of Noah (Genealogia Prosapiae Aliothmanae).
While the first part of the work deals with the rise (Incrementa) of the Ottoman state, the second part focuses on its decline (Decrementa). The first part begins with Süleyman Şah and covers the period until the annexation of Podolya region from Poland as the result of the Qamaniçe expedition (1083/1672) during the reign of Mehmed IV (1058-98/1648-87). In this part, the titles are arranged chronologically according to the names of Ottoman rulers and include the nicknames of some of the sultans. For example, “Sultan Murad I. Chodavendikiar,” “Ildirim Baiezid,” “Mehemed Fatih,” “(I.) Selim, cognomento Javuz,” “Suleiman I., cognomine Canuni,” “Sultan Selim II. cognomento Mest” are six of his titles. Although it is generally accepted today that Bayezid I (791-804/1389-1402) was the first Ottoman ruler to use the title “Sultan” and Mehmed II (848-50/1444-46 and 855-886/1451-81) to call himself “Padişah,” D.C.’s use of both “Sultan” and “İmperator/Padişah” for Orhan Beg suggests that he was influenced by the official ideology of his time.
The second part of the work, entitled Decrementa Aulae Othmanicae, deals with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. It is arranged, like the first part, chronologically. This section covers the period between 1083-1123/1672-1711, which corresponds to the reigns of sultans from Mehmed IV to Ahmed III (1115-42/1703-30). Since the work was completed in Russia, the last pages are entitled “Petro I, the Ruler of the Russian-Greeks” (Petrus Primus, Russo-Graecorum Monarcha). This part of Historia, which relates the developments during D.C.’s lifetime, is of greater historical value because the author refers to both his own personal experiences and to the eyewitness accounts of his family and friends to describe both the region (Eastern and Central Europe) and the time period under discussion. For example, D.C. participated in the historically significant expeditions of Zenta (1108/1697) and Prut (1123/1711) and met with prominent Ottoman and European statesmen.
Despite chronological inadequacies, the ‘Notes’ (Annotationes) are still valuable because they include important information about Ottoman civilization. Sections in which D.C. relates Ottoman realities he witnessed are the liveliest parts of the work. He includes colorful and interesting stories and his personal observations and opinions. In Historia, D.C. goes beyond simply relating the events and includes a social, economic and cultural evaluation. He reveals the reasons behind and connections between the events he describes.
D.C. only referred to a limited number of written sources and did not record his citations correctly. Perhaps the former voivode of Bogdan wrote the work during his hurried escape to Russia after the Battle of Prut without the help of the first version of Historia or other documents. Later the prince complained about the lack of good libraries in Russia. Lack of access to Ottoman texts may be the reason why D.C.’s Historia does not mention the name of Katib Çelebi (d. 1067/1657), one of the most famous authors of the 17th century.
The work was composed in 1128/1716 at the request of the Berlin Academy, of which D.C. was a member since 1714. It focuses on relations between the Ottoman state and the Principality of Moldavia. This monograph was written in Latin and later published in German (1769-70 and 1771), in Russian (1789), and in Romanian (1825). The detailed and accurate map of the Principality of Moldavia, which he also included, was later published separately for the first time in 1745 in Amsterdam.
The work consists of 3 parts: 1. Geography, 2. Politics, 3. Religion and Education. D.C. displays competency in geography, linguistics, and sociology throughout this volume. Especially important for Ottomanists are the 2nd (the election of voivodes of Bogdan), 4th (the yearly or three-yearly approval of ruling voivodes), 13th (Bogdan’s former and current incomes), and 14th (the tributes and offerings paid by Bogdan to the Sublime Porte) sections of Part II. In other sections D.C. focuses on the autonomy of the principality and Ottoman-Romanian commercial relations.
In this work D.C. relates the life of his father and his struggle against his rival Constantin Brancoveanu (d. 1126/1714), the voivode of Wallachia. Composed in Latin and completed between 1714-1716, the Vita was first published (in Russian) in 1783.
After completing Descriptio Moldaviae, D.C. worked from 1717 until his death on a comprehensive work in Romanian entitled Hronicul vechimii a Romano-Moldo-Vlachilor (The History of the Antiquity of Romanians). It treats the Latin origins of the Romanian people and the continuity of their settlement in the Carpathian-Danube-Black Sea region. Although D.C. was not able to complete this work, two complete volumes were published in 1835-36. The critical edition of two drafts in Latin, entitled De antiquis et hodernis Moldaviae nominibus ve Historia Moldo-Vlachica, were also published in Bucharest in 1983.
D.C. is known to have planned a work on the administration and institutions of the Ottoman state entitled De regimine othomanidum politico or De regimine Othmani imperii, which would have included sections entitled “De disciplina othomanidum civili ac morali,” “De moribus ac indole huius gentis,” and “De disciplina eorum militari”. Another less known work by D.C. on Ottoman civilization and religious life is Kniga sistima ili sostoyaniye muhammedanskiya religii, which was published in Russian in St. Petersburg in 1722. In this work D.C. treats topics like Turco-Muslim calligraphy, the superiority of dervishes to Christian monks, the beauty of the language of the Quran, and the prohibition of forced conversion in Islam. The Ottoman history entitled Historia incrementarum atque decrementarum Aulae Othomanicae, the work on Muslim doctrine entitled Kniga sistima and the book on Ottoman administration entitled De regimine Othmani Imperii were probably conceived of as a trilogy by D.C. In conclusion we would like to recognize D.C.’s personal contribution to Ottoman civilization as a noted musician.
(1) Historia incrementorum atque decrementorum Aulae Othomanicae
Manuscript: Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University, Houghton Library MS Lat 224, 3 books, 1064 pages (I consulted this copy).
Editions: (1) Crešterile ši descrešterile Imperiului Otoman. Facsimile edition of the manuscript Lat-124 [i.e., 224] at Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., with an introduction by Virgil Cândea (Bucharest, 1999). (2) Demetrii Principis Cantemirii incrementorum et decrementorum Aulae Othman(n)icae sive Aliothman(n)icae Historiae a prima gentis origine ad nostra usque tempora deductae libri tres. Praefatus est: Virgil Cândea; critice edidit: Dan Sluşanschi (Timişoara, 2001).
Translations: The history of the growth and decay of the Othman empire... Written originally in Latin, by Demetrius Cantemir, late prince of Moldavia. Tr. into English, from author’s own manuscript, by N. Tindal... Adorn’d with the heads of the Turkish emperors, ingraven from copies taken from originals in the grand seignor’s palace, by the late sultan’s painter. Trans. N. Tindal (London, 1734-35); 2. edition: (London, 1756). Other translations based on Tindal’s English translation: Histoire de l’empire othoman, où se voyent les causes de son aggrandissement et de sa décadence. Avec des notes très-instructives. Par S. A. S. Demetrius Cantimir, prince de Moldavie. Trans. M. de Joncquières (Paris, 1743). Geschichte des osmanischen Reiches nach seinem Anwachsen und Abnehmen, beschrieben von Demetrie Kantemir... Aus dem Englischen übersetzt (Hamburg, 1745). Istoria Imperiûlui ottomanu crescerea si scaderea lui cu note fórte instructive de Demetriu Cantemiru principe de Moldavia. Trans. Dr. Ios. Hodosiu (Bucharest, 1876-78). Dimitrie Cantemir: Historian of South East European and Oriental Civilizations. Extracts from The history of the Ottoman Empire. Ed. Alexandru Duţu and Paul Cernovodeanu (Bucharest, 1973). Translation based on the Romanian edition: Osmanlı İmparatorluğu’nun Yükseliş ve Çöküş Tarihi. Trans. Özdemir Çobanoğlu (3 vols., Ankara, 1979; 2. edition: 2 vols., Istanbul, 1998).
(2) Descriptio Moldaviae
Manuscript: In 1875 it was located in St. Petersburg at the Asia Museum (Aziiatskii muzei) of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Edition: Descrierea Moldovei: Traducere după originalul latin de Gh. Guţu. Introducere de Maria Holban. Comentariu istoric de N. Stoicescu. Studiu cartografic de Vintilă Mihăilescu. Indice de Ioana Constantinescu. Cu o notă asupra editiţei de D. M. Pippidi (Bucharest, 1973) [critical edition; Romanian translation].
Translations: (1) “Beschreibung der Moldau.” A. F. Büching’s Magazine für die neue Histoire und Geographie, vol. 3 (1769); vol. 4, (1770). (2) Historisch-Geographische und Politische Beschreibung der Moldau (Frankfurt-Leipzig, 1771). (3) Istoričeskoe, gheographičeskoe i političeskoe opisaniye Moldavii v jizny sočinitel’ja, s nemetzkovo perevel Vasilii Levğin (Moscow, 1789). (4) Scrisoarea Moldovei (traducere de banul Vasile Vârnav) (Mănăstirea Neamţ, 1825) (this translation was republished in 1851, 1868, 1872, 1872, 1909, 1923, 1938, 1942, 1956, 1961, 1965 and 1967). (5) Descrierea Moldovei: Traducere după originalul latin de Gh. Guţu. Introducere de Maria Holban. Comentariu istoric de N. Stoicescu. Studiu cartografic de Vintilă Mihăilescu. Indice de Ioana Constantinescu. Cu o notă asupra editiţei de D. M. Pippidi (Bucharest, 1973) [critical edition; Romanian translation].
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Wright. Demetrius Cantemir: The Collection of Notations (London, 1992). Defterdar Sarı Mehmed Paşa. Zübde-i Vekâyiât. Ed. Abdülkadir Özcan (Ankara, 1995), 41, 444, 575. Dan Râpă. Cantemiriana. Breviar bibiologic (Galati, 1998). E. Popescu-Judetz. Prince Dimitrie Cantemir: Theorist and Composer (Istanbul, 1999). Mihai Maxim. Romano-Ottomanica. Essays and Documents from the Turkish Archives (Istanbul, 2001), 173-201. Mihai Maxim. “Kantemiroğlu (Dimitrie Cantemir).” Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslam Ansiklopedisi, vol. 24 (Istanbul, 2001), 320-322. C. Bîrsan. Dimitrie Cantemir and the Islamic World (with a preface by Prof. Mihai Maxim) (Istanbul, 2004). Mihai Maxim. “Brancoveanu şi Cantemireštii. Documente noi din arhivele turcešti.” Arta istoriei, istoria artei. Academicianul Razvan Theodorescu la 65 de ani (Bucharest, 2004), 125-138. Namık Sinan Turan. “Bir Doğubilimci ve Müzik Teorisyeni Olarak Prens Dimitrie Cantemir.” Müzik ve Toplum, 14 (January-February 2005), 12-15. Prinţesa Cantemir. Portret de epoca şi corespondenta inedita. Editie ingrijita de Leonte Ivanov, cuvant inainte de Ştefan Lemny, traduceri şi studii critice de Marina Vraciu şi Leonte Ivanov (Iaši, 2005).
[Translated into English by Historians of the Ottoman Empire.
English version posted September 2008]