Dimitrie Cantemir

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Dimitrie Cantemir
File:Dimitrie Cantemir - Portrait from Descriptio Moldaviae, 1716 (crop).jpg
Portrait of Dimitrie Cantemir from the first edition of Descriptio Moldaviae (1716)
Native name Dimitrie Cantemir
Born (1673-10-26)October 26, 1673
Silișteni (now Dimitrie Cantemir), Vaslui County
Died August 21, 1723(1723-08-21) (aged 49)
Dmitrovsk, Oryol Oblast
Resting place Three Holy Hierarchs Church, Iași
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Nationality Moldavian
Occupation Encyclopedist, ethnographer, geographer, philosopher, historian, linguist, musicologist, composer
Notable work Divanul sau gâlceava înțeleptului cu lumea, Descriptio Moldaviae
Title Prince of Moldavia
Term March–April 1693
Predecessor Constantin Cantemir
Nicolae Mavrocordat
Successor Constantin Duca
Lupu Costachi
Spouse(s) Casandra Cantacuzino (m. 1699)
Anastasia Trubetskaia
Children Matei
Parent(s) Constantin Cantemir
Ana Cantemir (née Bantaș)[1]

Dimitrie Cantemir (Romanian pronunciation: [diˈmitri.e kanteˈmir]; 1673–1723) was twice Prince of Moldavia (in March–April 1693 and in 1710–1711). He was also a prolific man of lettersphilosopher, historian, composer, musicologist, linguist, ethnographer, and geographer.

His name is Дми́трий Константи́нович Кантеми́р (Dmitriy Konstantinovich Kantemir) in Russian, Dimitri Kantemiroğlu in Turkish, Dymitr Kantemir in Polish, Δημήτριος Καντιμήρης (Dimitrios Kantimiris) in Greek and Demetrius Cantemir in Latin.

Life and family

Dimitrie Cantemir was born in Silișteni (now located in Vaslui County, Romania), the son of Moldavian Voivode Constantin Cantemir (and brother to Antioh Cantemir, himself Prince), of the low-ranking boyar Cantemirești family. His mother, Ana Bantăș, was a learned woman of noble origins.

His education began at home, where he learned Greek and Latin and acquired a profound knowledge of the classics. One of his tutors was the scholar John Komnenos Molyvdos. Between 1687 and 1710 he lived in forced exile in Constantinople, where he learned Turkish and studied the history of the Ottoman Empire at the Patriarchate's Greek Academy, where he also composed music.

In 1693, he succeeded his father as Prince of Moldavia – in name only, as the Ottomans appointed Constantin Duca, favoured by Wallachian Prince and, despite many shared goals, forever rival of the Cantemirs Constantin Brâncoveanu; his bid for the throne was successful only in 1710, after two rules by his brother (whom he represented as envoy in the Ottoman capital). He had ruled only three weeks[2] when he joined Peter the Great in his campaign against the Ottoman Empire (see Russo-Turkish War, 1710–1711) and placed Moldova under Russian suzerainty, after a secret agreement signed in Lutsk.

Defeated by the Turks in the battle of Stănilești (July 18–July 22, 1711), Cantemir sought refuge in Russia,[3] where he and his family finally settled (he was accompanied by a sizeable boyar retinue, including the chronicler Ion Neculce). There, he was awarded the title of Knyaz (Prince) of the Russian Empire by Peter the Great and received the title of Reichsfürst (Prince) of the Holy Roman Empire from Charles VI. He died at his Dmitrovka estate near Oryol in 1723 (on the very day he was awarded the Roman-German princely title). In 1935, his remains were carried to Iași.

Posthumous portrait of Cantemir's second wife, Anastasia Ivanovna, Countess of Hesse-Homburg, Princess Trubetskaya by Alexander Roslin (1757)
Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria
Portrait of Princess Ekaterina Dmitrievna Golitsyna by Louis-Michel van Loo (1759)
Moscow, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
File:Stamp of Moldova RM505.jpg
Dimitrie Cantemir on a Moldovan stamp
File:USSR stamp D.Kantemir 1973 4k.jpg
Soviet stamp devoted to Dimitrie Cantemir, 1973 (Michel 4175, Scott 4132).

He was married twice: in 1699, to Kassandra Cantacuzene (1682–1713), member of the Cantacuzino family (the daughter of Prince Șerban Cantacuzino), and in 1717 to Anastasia Trubetskaya (1700–1755; from the Trubetskoy house).

Cantemir's children were rather prominent in Russian history. His elder daughter Maria Cantemir (1700–1754) attracted the attention of Peter the Great who allegedly planned to divorce his wife Catherine and marry her. Upon Catherine's ascension to the throne, she was forced to enter a convent. His son Antioh Cantemir (Antiokh Dmitrievich in Russian) (1708–1744) was also the Russian ambassador to London and Paris, a prominent satirical poet, and Voltaire's friend. Another son, Constantin (Konstantin Dmitrievich; 1703–1747), was implicated in the Golitsyn conspiracy against Empress Anne and exiled to Siberia. Finally, Dimitrie's younger daughter Smaragda (1720–1761), the wife of Prince Dmitriy Mikhailovich Golitsyn, was a friend of Empress Elizabeth and one of the great beauties of her time.


History, geography, philosophy and linguistics

In 1714 Cantemir became a member of the Royal Academy of Berlin. Between 1711 and 1719 he wrote his most important creations. Cantemir was known as one of the greatest linguists of his time, speaking and writing eleven languages, and being well versed in Oriental scholarship. His oeuvre is voluminous, diverse, and original; although some of his scientific writings contain unconfirmed theories and inaccuracies, his expertise, sagacity, and groundbreaking researches are widely acknowledged.

The best known is his History of the Growth and Decay of the Ottoman Empire. This volume circulated throughout Europe in manuscript for a number of years. It was finally printed in 1734 in London, and later it was translated and printed in Germany and France. It remained the seminal work on the Ottoman Empire up to the middle of the 19th century – notably, it was used as reference by Edward Gibbon for his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Afterwards, the work was largely contested, for some of its sources were doubtful.

In 1714, at the request of the Royal Academy in Berlin, Cantemir wrote the first geographical, ethnographical and economic description of Moldova, Descriptio Moldaviae. As many of his books it circulated first in manuscript and was only later published in Germany (first in 1769 in a geographical magazine, and then in 1771 the first edition as a book). Around the same time he prepared a manuscript map of Moldova, the first real map of the country. It contained a lot of geographical detail as well as administrative information. Printed in 1737 in the Netherlands, it has been used by all cartographers of the time as an inspiration for their own maps of Moldova.

Other writings:

  • A history and notation of Ottoman court music.
  • The first critical history of Romania as a whole, under the name of ro (Hronicul vechimei a romano-moldo-vlahilor) – approx. "Chronicle of the Ancientness of Romanian-Moldavians-Wallachians" (1719–1722). The work proves the Latin origin of the Romanian language and of people born on the former territory of ancient Dacia, including the fact that Romanian has four dialects.[4]
  • The first Romanian language novel, the cryptic Historia Hieroglyphica (1705), to which he furnished a key, and in which the principal persons are represented by mythological beasts; it is the history of the two Wallachian ruling houses of Brâncoveanu and Cantacuzino.
  • A philosophical treatise, written in Romanian and also in Greek, translated into Romanian, under the title Divanul sau Gâlceava Înțeleptului cu lumea sau Giudețul sufletului cu trupul (Iași, 1698) – Le divan ou la dispute du sage avec le monde ou le jugement de l'âme avec le corps in French ("The Divan or The Wise Man's Parley with the World or The Judgement of the Soul with the Body").
  • An unfinished second treatise (Constantinople, 1700), Sacrosantae scientiae indepingibilis imago or Imaginea științei sacre, care nu se poate zugrăvi ("The Undepictable Image of Sacred Science").
  • An introduction to Islam written for Europeans.
  • A biography of Jan Baptist van Helmont (Cantemir, 1709).[5] This work is cited by Debus (2002),[6] on pages 212-213.

Due to his many esteemed works he won great renown at the high courts of Europe. His name is among those who were considered to be the brightest minds of the world on a plaque at the Library of Sainte-Genevieve in Paris, next to those of Leibniz, Newton, Piron, and other great thinkers.


Cantemir had around 40 compositions in the Ottoman music of which few are performed today, but his greatest service to the Ottoman music is the fact that he helped preserve 350 instrumental pieces by recording them in a certain notation (the ebced) script he developed in his work "Edvar-i musiki" (1703-1704) which he presented to Sultan Ahmed III.

Dimitrie Cantemir on the 100 Transnistrian ruble bill

His above-mentioned work has been recently reprinted along with complete transcription and explanations.[7]

Some of Cantemir's compositions are part of the regular repertory of Turkish music ensembles. In 1999, the Bezmara ensemble have recorded an album, Yitik Sesin Peşinde ("In Search of the Lost Sound") from the Cantemir transcriptions using period instruments.[8]

In 2000, Golden Horn Records released a CD exploring Cantemir's compositions, European composers of Cantemir's era, and folk music of Moldavia. Featuring solo improvisations on the kemençe (in Turkish: bowed fiddle) or lăută (in Romanian) and the tanbur (Turkish long-necked plucked lute) by famed master İhsan Özgen and early music ensemble Lux Musica directed by Linda Burman-Hall, the project fulfills an ambitious endeavor by Özgen and Burman-Hall to meld early European music styles and instruments with today's Turkish art music styles and instruments, with Cantemir as their touchstone.[9]

In 2009, Alia Vox published a CD and booklet of music performed by the Hespèrion XXI ensemble and invited musicians under the baton of Jordi Savall. The recording and booklet both pertain to “The Book of the Science of Music” by Cantemir and the Sephardic and Armenian musical traditions. Seven of Cantemir's compositions are included in the recording along with other Turkish, Armenian and Sephardic music. [10]

House of Dimitrie Cantemir in Istanbul

One of the houses inhabited by Dimitrie Cantemir during his exile in Constantinople has been restored and transformed into a museum in 2007.[11] The museum lies in Fener quarter in the walled city, between the Phanar Greek Orthodox College and the Golden Horn.

See also

Constantin Cantemir
Dimitrie Cantemir


Sources consulted
  1. "Dimitrie Cantemir". Spiritul Cantemirist (in Romanian).CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Stefan Lemny. Les Cantemirs: L'aventure Européene d'une Famille Princière au XVIIIe Siecle. (Editions Complexes, Paris: 2009), p. 51.
  3. Stoica, Vasile (1919). The Roumanian Question: The Roumanians and their Lands. Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh Printing Company. p. 19.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Moldavian description prefaced by club Măciuca Constantine , Ed . Ion Creanga , Bucharest 1978
  5. Catemir, Dimitri (Demetrius) (1709); Ioannis Baptistae Van Helmont physices universalis doctrine et christianae fidei congrua et necessaria philosophia. Wallachia.
  6. Debus, Allen G. (2002); The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian science and medicine in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Courier Dover Publications, 609 pp.
  7. Kantemiroğlu, Kitâbu 'İlmi'l-Mûsiki alâ Vechi'l-Hurûfât, Mûsikiyi Harflerle Tesbit ve İcrâ İlminin Kitabı, Yalçın Tura, Yapı Kredi Yayınları, Istanbul 2001, ISBN 975-08-0167-9.
  8. In Search of the Lost Sound (album booklet). Bezmara. Istanbul: Kalan Müzik. 1999. EAN 8691834003576.CS1 maint: others (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Cantemir: Music in Istanbul and Ottoman Europe around 1700 (album booklet). Lux Musica. Santa Cruz, CA: Golden Horn. 2000.CS1 maint: others (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Istanbul - Dimitrie Cantemir (album booklet). Hespèrion XXI. Bellaterra, Spain: Alia Vox. 2009.CS1 maint: others (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Simina, Stan. "Dimitrie Cantemir are un muzeu în Istanbul". jurnalul.ro (in Romanian). Retrieved 29 July 2014.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Pavel Gusterin. Первый российский востоковед Дмитрий Кантемир / First Russian Orientalist Dmitry Kantemir. Мoscow, 2008. ISBN 978-5-7873-0436-7.

Further reading

External links

Preceded by
Constantin Cantemir
Prince/Voivode of Moldavia
Succeeded by
Constantin Duca
Preceded by
Nicolae Mavrocordat
Prince/Voivode of Moldavia
Succeeded by
Caimacam Lupu Costachi