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Nicknames And Agnomina Of Romanian Rulers

It was customary in the Middle Ages to refer to princes and kings by a large variety of nicknames or agnomina. They were meant to emphasize their bravery and tenacity in battle or to disparage their flaws and negative actions. An abundance of nicknames and agnomina were commonly found in the Medieval West: the Carolingian Empire, for instance, was ruled by emperors like Charles the Bold, Pepin the Short and Frederic Barbarossa, England had its Edward the Confessor, Richard The Lion Heart and John Lackland, France had Saint Louis, Louis the Pious and Philip the Handsome, Denmark had Herald Bluetooth, Spain had Philip the Great and Russia had Ivan the Terrible. The rulers of the Romanian provinces also went by various nicknames, some generating respect, others stirring laughter. Such names are Alexander the Good, Stephen the Great, Bogdan the Shortsighted, Mihnea the Mean and Michael the Brave.

There used to be a common set of names attributed to future rulers, but their constant repetition created confusion, hence the need to tell them apart in some way. The solution was to add other names to their title. In 1535 nobles brought to the throne Petru Paisie, a royal descendent, who was also a monk. Upon coronation, he received the royal name Radu, and was eventually recognized by historians as Radu Paisie, but that is a recent addition. There have been several rulers named Vlad, therefore a way to distinguish them was to add descriptive names like 'the Old'. This descriptive name did not mean he was actually old, but that he ruled before another ruler who went by the same name. Since the list of rulers called Vlad was quite long, nicknames were found for each of them, such as the well-known Vlad the Impaler. His father was known by the pejorative name of Vlad the Devil, attributed because he wore, on his chest, an emblem of the Order of the Dragon belonging to the Crusaders. On some occasions, rulers who lived during the same period of time, bore the same names, such as Basarab Laiota and Basarab the Young. Laiota was called "the old" and the other "the young" or ''little impaler'', showing that he was somehow inferior to the original "Impaler."

Some agnomina aimed to ridicule those whose claims to the throne had failed, those defeated in battles and those seen as immoral. Claimants to the throne always had pejorative nicknames, except for those in Wallachia. One was called Danciu the Doughnut, of the Craiovesti family; another was named Ivan the Badger, with both names rather unflattering for a nobleman. In Moldavia Stephen the Locust, earned his nickname because during his rule a locust invasion had taken place. Soliman the Magnificent forced him on the throne of the province, to replace Petru Rares. Similarly, Vlad the Impaler's brother was pejoratively nicknamed Radu the Handsome. A Byzantine historian, Laonic Chalcocondyl, tells us that while he was a hostage of the Ottomans ruled by sultan Mehmet II, Radu was sodomized.

Nicknames and agnomina were either picked up from official documents, or created by the people of that time. The rulers' chancellery was a good source of these agnomina as various people used to come here to have their properties confirmed, bringing along the necessary documents. So when they went to the chancellery of a ruler called Vlad and brought with them documents from the time of another ruler with the same name, the owner had to explain which Vlad had initially granted them the property. There had also been hesitations in regards to Vlad the Devil, for instance; the chancellery used to call him Vlad 'the one murdered in Balteni'. This made it difficult to know by which name he would be remembered. Some other rulers got their nicknames from the people. This is obviously how Vlad the Impaler got his name, which is not the product of some chancellery. What we should remember when we see in our history books names like Stephen I or Stephen II, is that these are modern additions. Romanian rulers never had a numerical order added to their names. Instead, Romanians used epithets emerged from an intense hatred for noble families, such as the case of John the Terrible, or from other incidents, such as the case of Alexander Barren Sheep, ruler of Wallachia, named this way after having levied a tax on sterile sheep.

Starting the 17th century, nicknames and agnomina for Romanian rulers have no longer been used. A possible explanation might be that, with old dynasties disappearing, the new rulers, from new ruling families, no longer needed additional names. New names emerged, like Matei Basarab, Vasile Lupu, Serban Cantacuzino, Constantin Brancoveanu and Dimitrie Cantemir, and they were different enough not to require nicknames.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:05:13 ZULU