John III the Terrible (or John III the Brave) (1521-1574) was a Voivode of the Moldavian Principality from February 1572 to June 1574.
He was born in the Moldavian Principality, which was part of the Romanian Kingdom. He was the son of Bogdan III and his Armenian wife Serpega, and, consequently, the grandson of Stephen the Great.
In Romania, he was known as John Hai (Ioan the Armenian). He earned his nickname “the Terrible” for his ruthless struggle against rebellious nobles who sought to undermine his anti-war efforts.
At the time, Romanian and Moldavian nobility held significant influence in the decision-making processes of the Romanian Kingdom.
The drawing depicts John III the Brave (Terrible) – Hovanes Hai.
In an attempt to consolidate his rule and set an example, Ioan III executed several disloyal nobles, thereby earning the epithet “the Terrible.”
Ordinary people admired his courageous stance against the corruption of the nobility and the harsh realities of Ottoman rule, especially when he refused Ottoman demands to double the tribute paid to the Ottomans.
For part of his life, he lived as a merchant in Constantinople, carefully studying the Ottoman way of life, and noting their strengths and weaknesses.
Ioan was one of the last medieval Moldavian rulers who engaged in battle with the Turks. To resist Ottoman power, he allied with Ukrainian Cossacks. Together, they achieved victories in battles at Jiliste, the siege of Brăila, and in the cities of Bender and Cetatea Albă.
Enraged, the Sultan sent a 150,000-strong army against him. The Moldavian forces bravely fought the Ottoman army, but the odds were against them.
During one of the battles at Lake Kagul, the Turks managed to capture the wounded Voivode. He surrendered in exchange for a promise that his Moldavian soldiers and Cossack allies would be spared captivity and death.
The Ottoman Sultan Selim II wanted to personally meet the leader and hero of the Moldavian people, but John refused to speak with him, declaring he’d prefer to see the Ottoman ruler’s face on the battlefield.
He was brutally tortured, with various parts of his body chopped off. Eventually, his body was tied to four camels and torn apart…
The brief rule of John III the Terrible (the Armenian) was marked by brutal fighting against the Ottoman Empire and their Crimean Tatar allies.
In general, Armenians have left an indelible mark on the formation of the Moldavian Principality, playing a significant role both in its political and economic life.
At least five other members of the Hai family served as Voivodes during the Middle Ages—Garabed, Alexander, and Konstantin, Peter (son of Alexander), Gaspar, and Aaron…
The account is by Komitas Hovnanyan.
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan