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Moldovan Collections at the Library of Congress

Rare Books

image of vestment dating to 1635
Prokudin-Gorskiĭ, Sergeĭ Mikhaĭlovic. Phelonion [vestment] dating to 1635 and belonging to Metropolitan Varlaam, Metropolitan of Moldavia. Prokudin-Gorskiĭ Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, library and congressional leadership sought to enhance not only the Library's usefulness for the American government and its citizens, but also to make it equal in reputation to the national libraries of Britain and France. This led to the deliberate inclusion of rare books in the Library's collections.

Thomas Jefferson's personal library, acquired by the U.S. Congress in 1815, included books from Moldova. It included a monumental work by Dimitrie Cantemir, prince of Moldavia Histoire de l'Empire Othoman... (Paris, 1743). Unfortunately, that copy was among the many volumes from the original Jefferson collection destroyed in a calamitous fire in the U.S. Capitol on Christmas eve, 1851. Subsequently the Library managed to obtain a copy of the English version, The History of the Growth and Decay of the Othman [sic] Empire (London, 1734). Cantemir composed this history in Latin during the years 1714-1716, while in exile as an advisor to Peter the Great. It was published only posthumously, first in English, because his son took the manuscript to London. It is the first substantial history of the Ottoman Empire in any European language, and it remained the preferred text for the next century.

Dimitrie Cantemir (1673-1723), prince of Moldavia, was a philosopher, historian, composer, and man of letters. His father was a mercenary of peasant origin who rose to become the voievod (prince) of Bogdan, the Turkish name for Moldavia. As a boy, Cantemir pursued studies in Greek, Latin, Slavonic, and several subjects. At age 14, he replaced his brother as a hostage of the Ottomans in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), serving as a guarantee of his father's loyalty to the Sublime Porte. There he continued his education, studying Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Tartar, French, and Italian, as well as philosophy, geography, history, and music. After his father's death in March 1693, Cantemir was proclaimed voievod of Moldavia, but the Sublime Porte refused to validate him for the throne, and he resumed his life of study in Constantinople. In November 1710, Cantemir finally ascended the throne of Moldavia, where he instituted policies of reform and social progress. He formed an alliance with tsar Peter I (Peter the Great), and joined Russia in a campaign against the Ottomans aimed at securing Moldova's autonomy and Russian protection against the Turks. The defeat of the Russian-Moldovan army in July 1711 at Stănileşti forced Cantemir to flee and take refuge in Russia, where he remained for the rest of his life. Cantemir wrote books on history, geography, philosophy, and linguistics, mainly in Latin.

Other than the books from the original library of Thomas Jefferson, the Library of Congress has other important works too by Prince Cantemir, housed in the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room. The books listed below are also available online. 

The Rare Book Reading Room also has copies of several early works written by others, which describe Moldovan territories, for example:

The Library of Congress also owns and has digitized the earliest printed legal code in Romanian, Vasile Lupu's code of laws.