The Sword of Prince Ipsilanti / The History of Romania in One Object
Photo 1: The Sword of Prince Ipsilanti
Where the Danube meets the Black Sea, there existed for centuries two countries named Moldavia and Wallachia or, collectively, the Romanian Principalities. In 1859 they united, and a new state was born, "Romania". Moldavia and Wallachia were located on the border of three empires: The Ottoman Empire, The Austrian Empire and The Russian Empire. This special position on the Eastern European map was a place where many political interests intersected and thus important historical events took place on this part of the world, in which sometimes distant peoples and countries were involved. One such event was the Greek Revolution of 1821, known as the Etherist Movement.
Photo 2: The map of South-Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 19th Century
After the conquest of the Byzantine Empire by the Turks in 1453, the Greek elite adapted to the new reality, acquired important positions in the Ottoman Empire, created prosperous commercial enterprises and maintained a tight grip over the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople. As the Romanian Principalities were part of the Ottoman commonwealth, the Greek diaspora also settled in these small countries which could still enjoy a certain degree of autonomy and where Christian faith could be practiced in all freedom. From the 18th century, certain Greek families even managed to sit on the thrones of Moldavia and Wallachia. They came to be known as the "Phanariot rulers" after the name of their neighborhood in Constantinople.
The old generations of the Greek elite dreamed of liberating the former Byzantine capital and reviving the Empire. Their hope was the Tsar of Russia, the Orthodox emperor who planned to conquer the Ottoman capital on the shores of the Bosphorus, the legendary place where Europe met Asia Minor. The new Greek elite, inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution, preferred to fight for the establishment of a nation-state on the territory of ancient Greece. The whole of Europe, built on the foundations of classical Greek culture, supported the cause of an ancient Greece reborn.
Photo 3: Prince Alexandru Ipsilanti painted in Iași by Ludovic Stawski after a lithography.
Preparations for such a plan could not be made in broad daylight. That is why a secret organization called "Filiki Eteria" ("The Society of Friends") was established in the port city of Odessa, in Tsarist Russia, in 1814 with the express goal to liberate Greece from the Ottoman rule. Prince Alexandru Ipsilanti was elected as its leader. Ipsilanti was born in Istanbul in 1792, where his father and grandfather were high dignitaries of the Ottoman Empire and then rulers of the Romanian Principalities. In 1895, his father, Prince Constantin Ipsilanti, took refuge in Russia of fear of his Turkish masters. Here young Alexandru received an aristocratic education and served in the cavalry regiments of the Imperial Guard. During Napoleon's invasion in 1812, he fought in the Russian army, showing great courage. Together with his hussar regiment he took part in the battle of Dresden, where he lost his right arm, torn apart by a shrapnel.
Photo 4: The Three Hierarchs Monastery in Iași
Photo 5: The Metropolitan of Moldavia handing Alexandru the sword of the leader together with his blessings
Photo 6: Alexandru Ipsilanti crossing the Prut River
In 1820, Prince Ipsilanti was an aide to Tsar Alexander and from this position he gave the signal for the revolution, leaving the impression that the action would be supported by the Russian Empire. On February 22, 1821, Ipsilanti crossed the Russian border and arrived in Iași, the capital of Moldavia. On February 27, the consecration ceremony of the revolution flag took place in the courtyard of the Three Hierarchs monastery. The Metropolitan of Moldavia handed Alexandru the sword of the leader together with his blessings. He planned to march on Wallachia and then cross the Danube into the Ottoman territory and farther on into Greece with his army of volunteers, which had at its core the Sacred Battalion formed by his closest followers. The revolution was to begin on March 25, the day of the "Annunciation" in the Orthodox Calendar. But the Tsar denied his support for the revolution and the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated its leader. The revolt soon collapsed.
Photos 7,8 and 9: The Sword of Alexadru Ipsilanti, details
Alexandru Ipsilanti's sword is part of the permanent exhibition of the History Museum of Moldavia in Iași. It is one of those objects that encapsulate an entire story, in all its greatness. The weapon is a "shamshir" (Persian) sword, with a curved and wavy blade. The blade is adorned using the "damascening" technique by which gold wire drawings were inlaid into the steel mass. One can notice a complicated monogram similar to the sultan's “tughra” (a calligraphic monogram, seal or signature) and a six-pointed star, known as the "Seal of Solomon." It is likely that Ipsilanti acquired this oriental weapon during the Russian Army's Persian campaign. The sword has a metal sheath adorned with yellow metal flourishes.
Text by historian and curator SORIN IFTIMI. Video presentation by historian and curator CĂTĂLIN HRIBAN of Moldavia's History Museum in Iași. A film by Mihai Neagu.
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.