Ioan Potcoavă

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The only known portrait of Ivan Pidkova, printed in Polish album in the 17th century
Cossack with a head of Ioan Potcoavă, baroque sculpture from Great Armoury in Gdańsk

Ioan al IV-lea Potcoavă (or Ivan Pidkova – Іван Підкова in Ukrainian; also known as Ioan Sarpega, Ioan Creţul, and allegedly baptized as Nicoară Potcoavă; died June 16, 1578) was a prominent Cossack ataman, and Voivode (Prince) of Moldavia (November – December 1577). His moniker ("potcoavă" in Romanian/"pidkova" in Ukrainian – "horseshoe") is said to originate in the fact that he used to ride his stallions to the point of breaking off their horseshoes; another version says that he could break and unbend both horseshoes and coins with his fists.

Ataman of the Cossacks

After rising to prominence as a successful soldier, he became a leader (ataman) and the sworn brother of Hetman Yakiv Shah, elected by the Cossacks of the Registered Zaporozhian Host from Ukraine neighbouring Moldavia[1] Pidkova's Romanian descent does not appear to have been uncommon; Stefan Batory, the Prince of Transylvania and the king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, among whose subjects Cossacks were and who organized registered Cossacks in regiments, stated that:

"The lands between the Bug and Dniester are populated by a mix of races composed of Lithuanian Poles, Muscovites and Romanians. The Cossacks are raised from the Muscovites and Romanians".[2]

(Though Batory mentioned Romanians as nationality, not ethnicity. Both Romanians and Ruthenians inhabited Moldavia. In 1574, Ioan Vodă cel Cumplit, whose brother Pidkova claimed to be, had named the territory "Our Country from over the Dniester". Other Moldavian Atamans and Hetmans of the Cossacks were Grigore Lobodă (Hryhoriy Loboda; 1593–1596) and Dănilă Apostol (Danylo Apostol; 1727–1734).

Voivode of Moldavia

Ioan IV Potcoavă was one of the so-called Domnişori ("Little Princes"), named so because of a more or less based claims of belonging to Moldavian ruling families, thus exercising demands of the throne.

Claiming to be Ioan III Vodă's half-brother, he together with Hetman Yakiv Shah chased Petru V Şchiopul from the throne and resisted the first wave of violent Ottoman reaction. The Turks, their Wallachian vassal Mihnea II Turcitul and their Transylvania vassal and Polish partner, King Stefan Báthory, managed to remove him. In the end, Ioan IV Potcoavă was taken prisoner by Poles and decapitated in Lviv.


He is the hero of Taras Shevchenko's romantic 1839 poem Ivan Pidkova, of Romanian writer Mihail Sadoveanu's socialist realist 1952 novel Nicoară Potcoavă, and of several Cossack ballads. His monument is placed on one of the small central squares in Lviv, Ukraine.

See also


  1. Firov. Hetmans of Ukrainian Cossacks. Sevastopol, 2005. П. Т. ФИРОВ Г Е Т М А Н Ы У К Р А И Н С К О Г О К А З А Ч Е С Т В А Биографические справки Севастополь 2005
  2. Ion Nistor, Basarabia, 10/1990, p.159.
Preceded by
Petru Şchiopul
Prince/Voivode of Moldavia
Succeeded by
Petru Şchiopul