An Historical Overview of the Crusade to Livonia

by William Urban

The crusade to Livonia described in The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia and The Livonian Rhymed Chronicle [1] occurred in the context of two powerful movements of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries-the crusading impulse that had originally led armies to the Holy Land and the German Drang nach Osten (or, to avoid the political implications of that phrase, the Ostsiedlung). The opening decades of the century had witnessed the Fourth Crusade to Constantinople, the Fifth Crusade to Egypt, the Albigensian Crusade in France, the Spanish Crusades, as well as expeditions to the Holy Land. Simultaneously there had been an eastward migration by German peasants and knights. In most cases this was at the invitation of Slavic rulers, though aggression was a factor in the German and Danish subjugation of the Slavic Wends, in Polish attacks on Prussia, and in expansionistic efforts by individual German dukes. These two movements-the Crusades and the German expansion eastward-coincided in creating the Baltic and Prussian Crusades. [2]

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In that era Prussia, Lithuania, Kurland (Courland), Livonia, Estonia and Finland were inhabited by peoples unrelated to the Germanic people to the west and northwest and the Slavic people to the east and south. [3] In the northern area lived Finno-Ugric peoples, most importantly the Finns and Estonians. In the southern areas lived the ancestors of present-day Latvians (Letts, Livs and Kurs) and Lithuanians, and the Prussians, who were linguistically related to them. The lands inhabited by the Letts, the Livs, the Kurs and the Estonians became known as Livonia after the German conquest.

Historians know less about the societal and political organization of these peoples than they would desire. [4] Clearly they were not organized into western-style nations or states. Yet they had well-defined political and territorial entities that have traditionally been called tribes, but might better be labeled “provinces”; some regions were nominally ruled by Russian princes. In practice each political unit was independent, but in time of war those who shared a common language tended to act in unison.

The crusade began in the lands of the Livs and Letts, who were being raided by Estonians, Russians and Lithuanians, and who probably expected the western merchants who sought to trade were little more to be trusted than the Vikings had been. It was no accident that wooden and earthen fortified strongpoints dotted the countryside; the native population lived with the fear of being murdered or carried away into slavery together with the herds and anything moveable that was worth stealing. The backbone of the natives’ economy was agriculture, complemented by herding, fishing and hunting; the tribes living in the maritime provinces indulged in piracy and some commerce.

It was German merchants, coming to the shores of Livonia by way of Visby on Gotland, who set the stage for the Baltic Crusade. The merchants wanted peaceful access to Livonian markets, but they had to be ready to use force to overcome native mistrust and fear. With them came missionaries.

In 1186 Meinhard, an Augustinian friar from Segeberg in Holstein, arrived with merchants at the mouth of the Daugava (Düna) River and obtained permission from the Russian lord of Polotsk to establish a church. [5] When Lithuanians raided the area that winter, the natives fled into hiding without offering resistance. Later Meinhard offered to build two stone forts; in return, the Livs would convert to Christianity and pay tithes. Once the forts were completed, however, the Livs refused to be baptized or to pay him for his expenses; and they refused to allow him to leave the country, lest he return with an army. Meinhard’s mission was thus not a total success, but his prospects excited the Pope, who named him bishop. [6]

The next bishop, Berthold, was sent from Hamburg-Bremen to assume duties aspastor to the small flock of Christians. In 1197 he received papal permission to preach a crusade, raised a volunteer force and landed in Livonia. His Saxon knights scattered the Livs and ravaged the countryside until the natives surrendered and submitted to baptism. But Berthold did not live to see his victory-he had fallen in battle.

His successor was Albert von Buxhoevden, a nephew of the powerful Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen. More than any other person, Albert was responsible for the success of the Baltic Crusade. Albert visited King Waldemar II of Denmark and Philip of Swabia, the leading contender for the German crown, and won their support for his crusade. Although he founded a flourishing city at Riga and established a number of German knights on tax fiefs in the countryside, the success of his military campaigns depended heavily on the good will of the Danish crown, which was beginning to dominate northern Germany and the Baltic Sea. [7]

Isolated from the Holy Roman Empire by stormy seas, surrounded by snow and ice, without comfortable cities or castles, and lacking a steady and adequate revenue, Albert’s men in Riga were never secure. Their protection depended on the annual spring influx of crusaders, many of whom combined mercantile and religious activities, and on the uncertain loyalty of the natives in the surrounding countryside. Nevertheless, within a decade Albert had consolidated his hold on the Livs, and he extended his influence over the Lettish tribes to the east and north-partly by conquest, partly by assisting defend them against Estonian attacks. In the meantime a new military order-the Fratres Militiae Christi, or the Order of Swordbrothers-had been created. Albert was compelled by circumstances to share his conquests with them, a reluctant concession that ultimately led to strife.

The Swordbrothers professed a combination of religious and secular beliefs that are far different from those of secular societies in the twenty-first century. First and foremost they were a monastic order. They lived a celibate life in cloistered convents, slept in dormitories, ate cabbage and other simple foods in silence while listening to readings from the Bible, the Church Fathers, or the history of their order, and they attended church services at regular hours night and day. They were also warriors, trained as knights and reared in concepts of honor that clashed strongly with the monkish habits expected of them. They had to remain in practice for battle, train the native militia and their garrison troops, collect taxes and tithes, and build the castles, mills, bakeries, breweries, smithies, storehouses, and churches necessary to their way of life. They were to be supported by the taxes and services of the natives whose lands had been assigned to them, but Bishop Albert was very reluctant to share his slender resources. As a result, there were conflicts and jealousies from the very beginning. Over time these became worse.

The Swordbrothers were governed by an elected master who was assisted by a vice-master who served in his absence or in the interval between his death and a new election, by a marshal who was responsible for all military affairs, and by a treasurer who oversaw financial affairs. Because of the wide extent of the land, the commanders of the castles had much responsibility. Each of these castellans headed a convent of twelve to twenty knights, and had a garrison of one to two-hundred men-at-arms and mercenaries. The official personally responsible for native affairs was the advocate (Vogt). The first master, Volquin, was highly respected for his skill in diplomacy and battle, his honesty and his piety.

The native nobles (seniores, elders) responded variously to the new regime of the military order and the Bishop of Riga. Some accepted their role willingly, but others rebelled at the first opportunity; these attitudes reflected the tribe’s pre-conquest status-those who had been oppressed welcomed the foreigners, those who had been oppressors resisted. Over time, however, the legal status of the native noble class everywhere declined, as did that of the commoners-though the era of serfdom still lay far in the future. [8]

Only a handful of German knights came to Livonia, and most of those served the Bishop of Riga as ministeriales, living from taxes rather than from lands. Some relatives of Bishop Albert settled as vassals around Riga and Dorpat [Tartu]. Later there would be many more German knights in Danish Estonia than in German-ruled Livonia, and in the bishoprics established in Estonia (Oesel-Wiek and Dorpat); a number of these knights married native noblewomen. Several fortified monasteries were sited at strategic points, most significantly the Cistercian cloister at Dünamünde at the mouth of the Daugava River.

The pagans failed to repel the invaders largely because they were unable to overcome fatal weaknesses in their societal structure-they hesitated to allow talented leaders to assume necessary authority; hating taxes and feudal services, they were unable to collect supplies or garrison border castles properly; and lacking incomes that could only be produced by trade, they could not buy weapons from abroad in sufficient amounts to equip their warriors fully. Militarily, the final turning point came when the crusaders mastered the art of fighting during the long northern winter.

For the cold months of the year rivers and swamps ceased to be obstacles. Instead, just as frozen waterways had long been icy highways for merchants pulling sleds laden with goods, they now served as invasion routes for western knights. Forests, denuded of leaves, no longer hid ambushers and fugitives. Footprints in the snow betrayed both men and hiding places. The crusaders’ tents provided better shelter on the march, their castles stocked food, clothing and military supplies, their discipline kept the forces in the field.

The crusaders overran the weakest tribes first, then incorporated their warriors into the Christian ranks. Bishop Albert’s political organization, like that of the Swordbrothers, was very effective in organizing the area’s resources: his officers collected taxes from the conquered tribes as well from visiting merchants and the citizens of Riga and other newly established towns; this provided an increasingly stronger financial base for operations; he enfeoffed nobles as vassals, and required the citizens of towns to serve as knights and infantry. He also appointed advocates who would train and lead native militia units. These militiamen were sometimes uniformed infantry, sometimes mounted infantry, but almost always they were enthusiastic about the opportunity to take revenge on traditional enemies and to enrich themselves with booty.

In the beginning the crusaders also possessed a superior military technology. Their wooden castles, although simple in design in comparison to stone and brick fortresses in central Europe, were almost impregnable to native siegecraft, whereas the natives’ forts were usually conquered by the crusaders’ skilled use of siege machines and fire. The charge of a German knight was almost unstoppable in the open field, so the pagans preferred to fight in woods and swamps; the Germans soon adapted their weapons to those conditions-knights customarily armed themselves with crossbows and shorter spears, and they employed light cavalry for scouting and forest combat.

The crusaders were also better able to conduct a war of attrition. Every spring convoys of ships brought crusaders-mostly Germans, but also Danes, Swedes, Slavs and Frisians. Most volunteers who came to serve Bishop Albert and the Swordbrothers were simple knights, but some were nobles who brought along significant numbers of retainers. Also, the pagans in Estonia had to deal concomitantly with invasions by Swedes and Danes on their western and northern coast and by Russians and Lithuanians from the east.

The Estonians saw the crusader presence as a potential danger, but they were unable to drive the westerners away. Bishop Albert had not attempted to conquer the coastal Estonians because Waldemar II had claimed them for himself, and because the interior provinces paid tribute to the Russian prince of Pskov whose daughter had married Albert’s brother. This changed in 1219 when King Waldemar personally led a huge naval and ground force against the Estonians, defeating the pagans and building a castle at Reval [Tallinn]; he summoned Bishop Albert and the Swordbrothers to assist him. Within a few years the crusaders had subjected the last free Estonian province, Oesel [Saaremaa]. But by that time Waldemar’s empire in Germany had collapsed. After he was routed at the Battle of Bornhoeved in 1227, his kingdom began a slide into a political and military impotence from which it did not recover for a century. When the Danish “protection” vanished from the Baltic Sea, L�beck and its allies, particularly Riga and other Livonian cities, took up the task of policing the Baltic Sea and protecting merchants.

The conquest of Estonia led to two new conflicts, one between Bishop Albert and the Order of Swordbrothers, and a second between the crusaders and the Russians. The Order, having made itself master in Estonia, now began to plot against Albert. But the Order’s ambitions were blunted by two events. First, Waldemar II of Denmark, the Order’s protector, had been kidnapped in 1223 by the Count of Schwerin. Second, that same year over a third of the Order’s members had perished in an Estonian insurrection. The rebellion was soon repressed, but Bishop Albert found it necessary to call for a papal legate to settle the differences between himself and the Swordbrothers. Albert had also pursued closer relations with the Russians for trade. However, the policy proved unworkable, leading to clashes between the crusaders and the Russians.

In 1225 the Pope had sent his Italian vice-chancellor, Bishop William of Modena, to arbitrate the dispute in Livonia. William soon earned the confidence of both parties, and arranged workable compromises on boundaries, jurisdictions, taxes, coinage and other subjects, but he could not resolve the basic quarrel over who was to be master in Livonia. William of Modena sought to remove Estonia from contention by taking it directly under papal control, appointing a vice-legate as governor, and by bringing in German knights as vassals. But this did not work-the vice-legate subsequently turned the land over to the Swordbrothers. It was at this time that one of the greatest medieval historical narratives was composed, the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia, presumably to assist him and other churchmen in understanding the events that had led to this crisis.

When Albert died in 1229, two candidates appeared in Rome, each claiming to be his rightful successor. One had been named by the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen; the other had been elected by the canons in Riga. Although the Pope ordered his legate in Germany to resolve the matter, that churchman was too involved in organizing opposition to Emperor Frederick II to travel to Livonia or hold hearings; so he gave the task on to a monk from the monastery at Alna in Belgium.

Baldwin of Alna quickly became an enemy of the Swordbrothers. He negotiated treaties with the natives, removed them from the jurisdiction of the Swordbrother Order, and in essence occupied Danish Estonia on behalf of the papacy. This was a dangerous threat to the Order’s finances, since tribute and taxes were their only means of supplying their forces and hiring mercenaries. Rather than humbly accept the legate’s rulings, as their rules required and Volquin wanted, the Swordbrothers decided to resist. The contest between Baldwin and the Swordbrothers became so bitter that the original purpose of his mission, the choosing of a new Bishop of Riga, was more or less forgotten. Finally, Baldwin approved Nicholas, the candidate proposed by the Rigan canons and the Archbishop of Magdeburg, and hurried off to Rome to complain about the Swordbrothers’ criminal behavior.

Baldwin had no difficulty in arousing the anger of the papal curia against the Swordbrothers (the resemblance of their rebellion to that of Emperor Frederick II was all too obvious). Pope Gregory IX armed Baldwin with extensive powers and dispatched him back to Livonia. Baldwin, however, did not return to Riga immediately, believing that he should first recruit an army to back him up in case the Swordbrothers chose to resist.

When Baldwin arrived in Riga in the summer of 1233, he occupied Kurland [9] and sent a garrison to Estonia. While Master Volquin opposed armed resistance to the papal legate, the Brothers themselves tolerated his insults only until the summer of 1234, when Baldwin ordered the Swordbrothers to surrender the castle at Reval. The Brothers placed Master Volquin under house arrest, then attacked and routed the papal army. This victory was followed by the arrest of Baldwin’s supporters throughout Livonia. Baldwin himself took refuge in D�nam�nde. Accusations and counter-accusations convinced the Pope that Baldwin’s mission was a failure. Gregory IX sent William of Modena to restore peace.

William of Modena divided Livonia among the three bishoprics-Riga, Dorpat [Tartu], and Ösel-Wiek [Saaremaa-Läänemaa]-and the Order of Swordbrothers. This was a practical arrangement, yet even he could not solve the most pressing current problem, the financial plight of the Swordbrothers, nor could he suggest a division of the lands that would be fully acceptable to the brothers, who saw only two ways out of their dilemma-to join a wealthier military order, or to acquire lands sufficiently wealthy to support their forces. The first hope dissipated when the Teutonic Knights rejected the Swordbrothers’ application for membership; the second was threatened when William of Modena indicated that Estonia would be returned to Waldemar II. In desperation, the brothers looked about for new lands to conquer. Because Semgallia (south of the Daugava) and Kurland (the peninsula and the western coast) had yielded to the Christians rather easily a few years earlier during a time of famine, the brothers hoped that a similar success could be obtained against Lithuania to the south. But the Lithuanians were great warriors and their lands were too extensive to occupy quickly. The ambition of new conquests persisted nevertheless. The crisis came in 1236, when a large crusading force arrived from Holstein and demanded to be led against the pagans. Master Volquin wanted to wait until winter before launching a campaign against the Lithuanians, but the newly arrived crusaders insisted on fighting that summer so that they could go home before the seas froze. The Master’s expedition set out through Semgallia to attack the Samogitians (Lithuanians who lived in the “lowlands,” Zemaitija, north of the Nemunas River). The crusaders surprised the Samogitians, but on their return north, they found the crossing of the Saule River blocked by a Samogitian force. The ensuing battle was a disaster for the Swordbrother force-Volquin and most of the crusaders were slain at the ford, while the native troops took off through the woods.

This was essentially the end of the Order of Swordbrothers. The knights who survived-those who had been stationed in the castles-were incorporated into the Teutonic Order in May of 1237. [10] This was a decisive moment for the Baltic Crusade. While badly needed reinforcements were sent from Prussia to Livonia, Riga was no longer the central focus of crusader interests. Prussia and the Holy Land had to be considered as well now, and future strategy in Livonia would be defensive, or at best, would be assisted in offensive operations only when Livonian attacks assisted military goals of the Teutonic Order in Prussia. Nevertheless, the Livonian Knights could pursue their own policies, sometimes in conflict with the rest of the Teutonic Order..

The Teutonic Knights were not as large a military order as the Hospitallers or Templars, but they were building a strong base in Prussia with the help of German and Polish crusaders. When the Mongol attack in 1241 weakened their Polish allies, a great revolt broke out in Prussia. Distracted by an additional war with Pomerellia and another revolt in 1260, the Teutonic Order was unable to complete its conquest of the region until 1283.

Many Swordbrothers who had survived the Battle of Saule refused to agree to the relegation of Livonia to secondary importance. In particular they protested the Treaty of Stenby in 1238 by which Estonia was returned to King Waldemar II, a move the Teutonic Knights found necessary to secure the monarch as an ally for their own expansion eastward in Prussia. At the same time, William of Modena was promoting a joint German-Danish-Swedish attack on Novgorod, the only important Russian city to have escaped Mongol attack, with the hope that its capture would lead to church unification. While the Teutonic Knights chose not to support this crusade, in 1239-1240 former Swordbrothers did, joining with secular knights from Estonia and a few crusaders recruited by the papal legate.

A Swedish crusader force crossed Finland to the mouth of the Neva, while the Germans crossed into Karelia and also occupied Pskov. After initial successes, the whole adventure turned into a disaster-the Swedes were defeated at the Neva River in 1240, and the Germans on the wintry ice of Lake Peipus in 1242. [11] The Teutonic Knights did not again attempt a conquest of Russian lands east of Livonia. Rather, the crusaders now confined their activities to the frontiers of Semgallia and Kurland, building castles and consolidating Christian rule. The semi-autonomous Livonian Order, as this branch of the Teutonic Knights is often called, became involved in a conflict with Mindaugas, an ambitious ruler who was uniting all of the Lithuanian tribes and expanding his control over the Russian cities devastated and abandoned by the Mongols in recent years. Fortunately for the crusaders, Mindaugas’ interests lay to the south and east, and they were able to make alliances with regional strongmen who feared and hated the Lithuanian grand duke.

The Teutonic Knights had other obligations which made it difficult for them to send reinforcements. The Holy Land was hard-pressed; Frederick II and Pope Innocent IV were locked in a desperate power struggle; the Mongols had overrun Poland and Hungary in 1241 and threatened to return; other Mongols were threatening the Holy Land, and Jerusalem was lost once again to the Moslems. The Teutonic Order itself was torn between factions wanting to support the Emperor and the Pope, factions wanting to concentrate on the Holy Land and desiring to give priority to holy war against paganism and orthodoxy.

The local resources of the Livonian Order were as inadequate to the tasks it was expected to perform as the Swordbrothers’ had been, but the Bishops and Abbots, and their vassals, were nevertheless jealous of its power and prestige, and also fearful that once the Master could mobilize the resources available to the Teutonic Order in Germany, he would make them a part of his well-organized state. As long as Bishop Nicholas lived, there had been little open friction between the various factions in Livonia. The Bishop of Riga, the Bishop of Dorpat, the Bishop of Ösel-Wiek, the Bishop of Semgallia, the Bishop of Kurland, the governor of Estonia, and the master of the Livonian Order had been able to coexist. However, when Bishop Nicholas died, he was succeeded by a papal appointee, Albert Suerbeer, who was less cooperative. [12]In 1248 the Pope appointed Albert Archbishop of Prussia and papal legate. The Teutonic Order, knowing Albert’s reputation, warned him not to come east.

Frustrated in his ambitions on Prussia, Albert Suerbeer occupied the vacant bishopric of Lübeck and laid claim to Riga. The dispute dragged on until Frederick II’s death in 1251. Once the Hohenstaufen danger to the papacy had passed, the Pope did not think it necessary to continue his pressure on the Teutonic Order. William of Modena arranged one last compromise, by which Albert became the Archbishop of Riga in return for promising to halt his harassment of the Teutonic Order. Albert did not fully yield, but he did find it more difficult to interfere in the Order’s activities effectively. In the 1250’s the Teutonic Knights succeeeded in converting Mindaugas of Lithuania to Christianity; by building a castle at Memel [Klaipeda] and by conquering Samland in Prussia, they had effectively encircled the Samogitians, the only remaining pagan tribe in the region. In 1257 the Samogitians asked for a two year truce, during which time they would accept western merchants and missionaries and consider becoming converts. [13]

Crusader successes had depended heavily on an effective frontier defense based on a line of castles along the Daugava River and at strongpoints protecting the land route to Prussia. These castles were first and foremost bases for scouts, who would patrol the frontier and send word to the interior settlements upon detection of signs that a raiding party had crossed into Christian territory. Secondly, they were assembly points for the native militia, which together with a force of knights would be sent in pursuit of raiders with an aim of destroying the latter and recovering any booty. Although the Livonian Order could not intercept raiders, they could make raiding unprofitable. And lastly, the castles served as bases for launching raids into pagan territories. The strategy was relatively effective and inexpensive. The Teutonic Knights varied from it only when it was necessary to attack enemy castles or to build new forts in advance of the frontier. For major operations it was necessary to recruit a larger army from Livonia. [14]

When the Samogitians made their choice in 1259, it was to remain pagan. High among the reasons for this decision was social pressure by the warriors and pagan priests, both of whom saw successful raids on Christian neighbors as essential to maintaining their social standing and hopes of future prosperity.

The Samogitian war threatened to cut the Order’s communication line between Memel and Kurland, effectively isolating Livonia during those winter months when pack ice covered the seas. In 1260, when the combined crusading field armies of Prussia and Livonia pressed into the area, the pagans gathered to resist. At the Battle of Durben, the Samogitians slew 150 knights and two counts. The news of the Christian disaster spread quickly, precipitating revolts in Prussia, Semgallia and on Oesel [Saaremaa]. King Mindaugas of Lithuania became an apostate and joined with Novgorod in an attack on Livonia. Within a year, however, the Livonian Order emerged from the crisis with nothing worse than a bad scare and the need to abandon the immediate plans for expansion to the south. The system of defense had proven itself capable of protecting the land, and only a few frontier castles had to be abandoned. The Livonian militias, although badly beaten several times by pagan armies, nevertheless punished most raiding parties severely. Prussia was another matter-it was twenty years before the revolt there was extinguished. As far as the crusaders were concerned, the greatest setback was the fact that from this time onward the Lithuanians and the Samogitians were allied against them. Lithuania did not become a Roman Catholic land until 1386.

Archbishop Albert Suerbeer attempted ineffectively to take advantage of the Teutonic Order’s troubles, it was not until 1267 that he was perceived as a real danger. As conflicts over trading rights and banditry on the Dorpat-Pskov border became more serious, it became obvious that with Novgorod was imminent. The Master of the Livonian Knights sent an appeal for crusaders. Among the many German volunteers to come was Prince Heinrich of Mecklenburg, who brought along his uncle, Gunzelin of Schwerin, in order to prevent him from causing trouble at home. Heinrich went to the threatened frontier at Dorpat, but Gunzelin remained in Riga, where he soon was plotting with the Archbishop against the Livonian Order. Gunzelin was a son of that Count of Schwerin who had kidnapped the Kingof Denmark in 1223 and destroyed the Danish empire in the Baltic. The Archbishop, clearly hoping that a similar audacity would yield a similar result against the Livonian Order, conferred on Gunzelin the position of advocate, authorizing him to use all archiepiscopal powers and resources. Meanwhile, the Livonian Knights, together with the forces of the Bishop of Dorpat, had fought a bloody battle in Estonia against invading Russians. As both armies withdrew from the field, each claimed victory. In late 1268, after the Livonian Order had advanced to Pskov, a peace treaty was signed.

The Master arrested Archbishop Albert in December at a moment when Gunzelin was abroad recruiting troops. He warned the Count of Schwerin not to return to Livonia and he confined the Archbishop on bread and water until he capitulated. After that, no one dared to defy the authority of the Livonian Knights.

The Livonian Order then turned its attention to Semgallia, which Lithuanians were crossing to make raids into Kurland and Livonia. In February of 1270 a large Lithuanian army made its way through Semgallia and across the ice to Oesel. The Livonian Knights summoned all their allies, then intercepted the raiders upon their withdrawal across the frozen sea. The Christian force met the Lithuanians on the ice near Wiek, but their cavalry attacks failed to break through the bravely defended chain of sleds loaded with booty. The Lithuanians were inspired by this victory to attempt another raid, during which they inflicted yet another defeat on the crusader forces.

Subsequently, the Livonian Master decided to close this gap in the defensive lines. He obtained reinforcements from Prussia for a systematic reduction of Semgallia. He first captured some strategic castles that had secured the Lithuanian route to the coast. They he built a new castle at Dünaburg [Daugavpils]. This castle at the southern bend of the Daugava screened the long eastern flank of the crusader states and served as a base from which the crusaders could launch attacks against important Lithuanian settlements. The Master thus made it impossible for the Lithuanians to concentrate their resources on one front. By threatening to take the offensive in the east, he had put the pagans on the defensive in the west as well.

In 1279 a raiding army of the Knights was pursued out of Lithuania by a large pagan force that killed seventy-one Brothers and a large contingent of Estonian knights. The Livonian Knights surrendered Dünaburg in exchange for the prisoners, after which they lost several more Semgallian castles. The castellan of Goldingen [Kuldiga] was given responsibility for maintaining a semblance of a Christian hold on the region. In the winter of 1281-1282 he sent a large Christian force up the Aa [Lielpule] River to Mitau [Jelgava], then fell on the pagan towns. The results were indecisive. The Semgallians promised neutrality, but it was a promise they found hard to keep, since the Lithuanians persisted in crossing their lands.

In 1285 the Teutonic Knights built Heiligenberg opposite the main Semgallian stronghold. The Samogitians and Semgallians laid siege to this castle, but when their assault failed, the Semgallians’ fate was sealed. By 1290 they had either surrendered or fled south into Samogitia. Thus, the crusader conquest of Livonia was completed. [15]In subsequent decades the Livonian Order snuffed out the independence of Riga [16]and pressed into Samogitia in support of Prussian operations. The fundamental nature of the crusade had changed to a defensive posture. In essence, the Livonian Order was carrying out the policy first described by Meinhard, the protection of the native peoples from outside attack. Circumstances had changed, of course, in the meantime, obscuring the nature of the crusader regime so significantly that even many contemporaries could not remember the crusade’s original purpose and almost no modern observers have been able to see it. [17]


Endnotes

  1. Heinrici Chronicon Livoniae (Würzburg: Holzner, 1959) contains both the Latin original and a German translation by Leonid Arbusow and Albert Bauer. It is also available in an English translation by James A. Brundage, The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1961).
  2. The best survey of the crusading movement in the Baltic is Eric Christiansen, The Northern Crusades (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1980; second edition New York: Penguin, 1998). There is greater detail in William L. Urban’s The Baltic Crusade (1975; enlarged second edition Chicago: Lithuanian Research and Studies Center, 1994). Those who read German should consult Friedrich Benninghoven, Der Orden der Schwertbrüder (Köln-Graz: Böhlau, 1965) and Manfred Hellman, Das Lettenland im Mittelalter: Studien zur ostbaltischen Frühzeit und lettischen Stammegeschichte, insbesonders Lettgallens (Münster: Köln & Böhlau, 1954).
  3. Sources on the natives in the region prior to the German conquest include: Richard Indreko, “The Prehistoric Age of Estonia,” in Aspects of Estonian Culture, edited by Evald Uustalu (London: Boreas, 1961); Gustav Ränk, Old Estonia (Bloomington, Ind.: Research Center for Language and Semiotic Studies, 1976); and Marija Gimbutas, The Balts (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1963), Bronze Age Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe (The Hague: Mouton, 1965), and The Prehistory of Eastern Europe (Cambridge: Peabody Museum, Harvard University, 1956).
  4. General histories of the region in English are: J. Hampden Jackson, Estonia, second edition (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1948), Evald Uustalu, The History of Estonian People (London: Boreas, 1952); Arthur Vööbus, Studies in the History of the Estonian People (three volumes to date. Stockholm: Estonian Theological Society in Exile, 1969-1974); Arnolds Spekke, History of Latvia: An Outline (Stockholm: M. Goppers, 1957); Alfreds Bilmanis, A History of Latvia(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951).
  5. For early contacts with Christianity, see Arthur Vööbus, Studies in the History of the Estonian People, volume 1 (Stockholm: Estonian Theological Society in Exile, 1969) and the excellent essays in Gli inizi del cristianesimo in Livonia-Lettonia (Vatican, 1989).
  6. For the Danish activities, see P. Peter Rebane, Denmark and the Baltic Crusade, 1150 – 1227 (unpub. PhD diss., Michigan State University, 1969), and his “The Danish Bishops of Tallinn, 1260-1346,” in Journal of Baltic Studies, 5/4 (Winter 1974), 315-328. Aspects of military techniques are discussed by Friedrich Benninghoven, “Zur technik spätmittelalterlicher Feldzüge in Ostbaltikum,” in Zeitschrift für Ostforschung, 20(1970), 631-651.
  7. Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe. Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950-1350 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993) describes eloquently the kind of noble and merchant who thrived in this frontier country-warlike, courageous, proud, ambitious, ruthless and adaptable.
  8. Serfdom grew slowly, first from the prisoners-of-war who were sold as agricultural laborers, then in the fifteenth and sixteenth century as an extension of estate production of crops for the export market. At that same time changes in military strategy and tactics had rendered the local militias less necessary, while increasing the need for manpower to transport supplies and equipment.
  9. The natives were not only aware of the crusader advantages, but were facing one of the periodic famines. They arranged to surrender to western merchants, who were supposed to bring food and guarantee good government. Kurland and Semgallia, however, were soon made into dependencies of the Swordbrothers and the newly-appointed Bishops of Kurland and Semgallia.
  10. A correct translation of Der Deutsche Orden would be the German Order, but the English-language convention has long been the Teutonic Order or the Teutonic Knights. For the Order’s early history see William Urban, The Prussian Crusade(the much-enlarged 2nd edition. Chicago: Lithuanian Research and Studies Center, 2000) and Alan Forey, The Military Orders from the twelfth to the early fourteenth centuries (Toronto and Buffalo: Toronto, 1992). Excellent illustrations accompany an authoritative text in Friedrich Benninghoven, Unter Kreuz und Adler. Der Deutsche Orden im Mittelalter (Berlin, 1990) and Udo Arnold and Gerhard Bott, 800 Jahre Deutscher Orden (Munich: Bertelsmann, 1990).
  11. The Battle on the Ice was made famous by the misleading 1938 film by Eisenstein, Alexander Nevsky. See David Nicolle, Lake Peipus 1242: Battle on the Ice (London: Reed International Books, 1996). The native society of this frontier region is discussed in Anti Selart, Eesti Idapiir Keskajal. [Estonia’s Eastern Frontier in the Middle Ages] (Tartu: Kirjastus, 1998) and reviewed in Journal of Baltic Studies, 30/2 (July 1999), 186-187.
  12. Albert had been the candidate for Riga appointed by the Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen in 1230; he was a strong supporter of the papacy against Frederick II, and had ruled his diocese in Ireland in such a way that it was unsafe for him to return there.
  13. Speculum, 45(1979), 722-726, contains a description of the coronation ceremony.
  14. William Urban, “The Organization of the Defense of the Livonian Frontier.” Speculum, 48 (July, 1973), 525-32.
  15. William Urban, “The Military Occupation of Semgallia in the Thirteenth Century,” Baltic History (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1974), 21-34.
  16. The accusations made against the Livonian Order were so bold and persuasive that many historians have forgotten that they represent a prosecution case, not an impartial investigation. The Teutonic Order had learned long before to base their defense on their rights as a military order, not on the unpredictable verdicts of papal legates. Hence, they refused to attend hearings or offer testimony, then successfully undercut the legate’s report through their representative at the papal court, the general procurator, and through personal appeals to the Pope. In the end, the Church always acknowledged the practical fact that the accusers had less than selfless motives in pursuing the prosecution, and that there was no alternative to relying on the Teutonic Order for frontier defense. To have condemned the Teutonic Order would have been tantamount to abandoning the region to paganism and Orthodoxy. See William Urban, “Victims of the Baltic Crusade,” Journal of Baltic Studies, 29/3 (Fall 1998), 195-212, and, seeing the larger picture, “Rethinking the Crusades,” Perspectives [newsletter of the American Historical Association], 36/7 (October 1998), 25-29.
  17. William Urban, The Livonian Crusade (1980; new, enlarged edition in progress), The Samogitian Crusade (Chicago: Lithuanian Research and Studies Center, 1989), and Tannenberg and After (Chicago: Lithuanian Research and Studies Center, 1999); S.C. Rowell, Lithuania Ascending. A Pagan Empire within East-Central Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); and best of all, Christiansen, The Northern Crusades.