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The Orders and Decorations of Alexandru Ioan Cuza / The History of Romania in One Object

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

Photo 1: Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza wearing his foreign decorations, official portrait by Carol Popp de Szathmari

In the 18th century, the Romanian Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, located at the mouth of the Danube River, laid under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. After the Kuciuk-Kainargi Peace Treaty of 1774, Russia added its own protectorate on the two countries, which from then on would find themselves under a double patronage. Consequently, given this situation, the unification of the two Romanian Principalities was only possible much later, in 1859, in the context created by the defeat of Russia in the Crimean War in 1856. Immediately after the war, the Western allies, the so-called "seven European Powers", that is, France, England, Russia, Turkey, Austria, Prussia, and Sardinia (Italy), collectively guaranteed the survival and security of the Romanian Principalities.

Unionist politicians in the Principalities sensed the benefit of adopting a guarantee regime, in which the seven partners had to be in agreement on every issue and decide on a policy of "fait accompli" or accomplished fact. But, for this to succeed, the support of Emperor Napoleon III was essential. With the French monarch’s blessing, the union of Moldavia and Wallachia took place in 1859 under Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza.

Beyond the purely protocolary aspect, receiving foreign decorations was a sign of the international recognition and respect enjoyed by a head of state at the time. That is why, from the beginning of Cuza’s reign, Romanian diplomatic agents pleaded with Napoleon III to grant him "The Legion of Honor", but to no avail. Other monarchs were less parsimonious in this respect.

Photo 2, 3 & 5: The Medjidie Order and its patent

On his first visit to Constantinople in September 1860, Prince Cuza was awarded the Medjidie Order, the highest Ottoman decoration at the time, which had been created by Sultan Abdulmedjid I and modelled after the French "Legion of Honor". The Ottoman decoration was even crafted in a Parisian workshop. It is remarkable how the Ottoman Empire emulated the European system of orders and decorations. The arms of the order consist of a silver star of seven triple quills finished with seven-pointed stars alternating with seven small ascending crescents (croissant), the symbol of Islam; a gold medallion lies in the center of the star with a motto in the Ottoman language reading "Zeal, Devotion, Loyalty". In the middle of the disc, on metal, the monogram of the sultan ("tughra") is inlaid. At the beginning the decorations of the highest class had real diamonds, replaced in time with imitations.

Photo 6, 7 & 8: The Order of St. Maurice and Lazarus and its patent

In October 1860, King Victor Emanuel of Sardinia awarded Cuza the Order of St. Maurice and Lazarus, in the rank of Grand Cross. The decoration consists of the cross of St. Maurice made of white enamel (with equal arms finished in trefoil heads) and the cross of St. Lazarus, made of green enamel, placed obliquely between the arms of the other cross. For this highest rank, the decoration is applied over a diamond-plated silver plaque in the shape of an eight-pointed star. The sash of the Order is made of green silk. The Grand Cross, decorated with a large cord, is 2.5 inches in diameter and is suspended from the sash by a royal crown.

Photo 9, 10 & 11: The Order of the Savior and its patent

The Order of the Savior was the highest decoration granted by the Greek government in 1862. The decree through which the Order was established had been signed by King Otto on May 20, 1833. The light blue sash of the Order was worn over the right shoulder. The arms of this order were a cross in eight corners (the "Maltese" cross), enameled in white, placed over a crown of green enamel. An enameled disc depicting Jesus the Savior is placed in the center of the cross. The icon is surrounded by an inscription on a blue enamel ring: "In your righteous hand, O Lord, is the power and glory" (Genesis 15: 6). The Order's sash is blue, with a white border, representing the colors of the Greek flag.

Photo 12: The Order of Osmaniye

On his second visit to Constantinople, in 1864, Cuza received the new Order of Osmaniye, the highest Ottoman distinction, from the hands of Sultan Abdulaziz himself. The decoration consists of an eight-pointed star made of diamond-plated silver; above it there is a gilded metal disc which supports a red medallion, surrounded by a circle made up of 22 diamonds. On the red medallion, at the bottom, there is an ascending crescent bearing the following inscription in Ottoman calligraphy: "By Grace of Almighty Allah Abdulaziz Khan, ruler of the Ottoman Empire.”

Photos 13 and 14: Aspects from the official meting of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza and Sultan Abdulaziz

Photos 15 and 16: Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul

Alexandru Ioan Cuza was the originator of a series of bold reforms, which won him the reputation of a rebellious prince who was not to be kept in check by the new "protectors" of the unified provinces. He was considered unpredictable in matters of foreign policy and even capable of dramatic surprises. Such a surprise was the coup of May 2, 1864, when the Prince dissolved the Parliament which opposed his liberal reforms and introduced a regime of personal authority. In order to portray himself as a factor of stability, recognized by the Great Powers, Cuza commissioned an official portrait in which he wore all four decorations received from the Ottoman Empire, Sardinia, and Greece. But, unlike the previous rulers of the Romanian Principalities, Cuza was not awarded the Order of St. Ana, conferred by Russia as a sign of its influence and benevolence.

Text by historian and curator SORIN IFTIMI. Video presentation by historian and researcher CĂTĂLIN HRIBAN. A film by Mihai Neagu. A team of Moldavia's History Museum in Iași. The second season of THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, our online program that evokes decisive epochs in Romania's past starting from objects with powerful symbolic and representative value, is developed in partnership with two of the most important history museums in the country, Moldavia's History Museum in Iași and The National Museum of Transylvanian History in Cluj-Napoca. #TheHistoryofRomaniainOneObject #TheOrdersandDecorationsofAlexandruIoanCuza



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