The Order of The Brothers of Sword

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Arms of Order

The Crusades are famous for their Orders – spiritual military organizations with their own social order and code of laws.

The name ordo in Latin means “class”. The first orders where clerical organizations for monks. At the Early Middle Ages when Christianity begun to took prime importance on every person’s life, there were many people who wanted to devote their life for God by becoming monks. The monks lived in Monasteries; they were barred from secular tastes like marriage and family. They lived an in closed communities where they spend time in prayers and studying the holy texts. At 9th century the secular leaders begun to take more pressure on church based organizations making many Monasteries to decay and lose it spiritual basis. The Medieval sources tell that some Monasteries had become so secular so they acted more as guest houses than spiritual surroundings.

This was watched reluctantly by conservative forces in the church and needs for new reforms that will bring spirituality back to the Monasteries were needed. At year 910  in Burgundia (present day France), Cluny the first Monastery which was inferior only to the Pope was founded. It followed the statutes written by Benedict of Nursia, those who followed his teachings were to be called the Benedictines. New statutes commanded to strongly regard the inner discipline of the Monastery and tackle the depravity of clergymen.  When in 1073 the new charismatic Pope Gregory VIII previously known as monk Hildebrand, the Benedictine statutes were amended with thesis of higher and unquestionable power of the Pope and give rights to depose every secular ruler and free his subjects from the duty of loyalty.  Gregor’s VII ambitions caused a bitter conflict with secular ruler Henry IV the Holy Roman Emperor, but his efforts for the Benedictine movement were successful; in 12th Century there were 2000 Monasteries following the statutes of Benedict of Nursia.

The Order of Benedict was the first order in world history but in 13 century new spiritual movements of monks emerged. The Cistercian Order objected the Benedictine lust for luxury and lack of desire for physical work. They made more ascetic lifestyle and built their Monasteries at remote places. Following the call of monk Bernard of Clairvaux they became a missionary and travelled to  Pagan lands such as Latvia. There were more monk orders like the Franciscans and Dominican Order.

When the Crusader movement started to gain it heights the new military orders emerged. They were based on desire to compile spiritual and secular beliefs. The knights joining the order lived just as monks except they had a stronger hierarchy and were allowed to kill. The Orders had special ranks, rules and intuitions. The head of the military order was the Master; he commanded the Order and set ranks of its members. Many ranks such as Marshal, Officer and Commander are common in today’s military organizations.  The oldest military order was the Order of Malta which still operates today. The most popular was the Knights Templar or Order of the Temple which was the richest and powerful knight organization of Medieval times. They were utterly destroyed by French King Philip IV who wanted to loot Orders wealth to clear his debt.  But the order who affected the Baltic region was Teutonic Order as all orders it started in the Holy Land to fight Muslims. But then the order discovered that fighting Pagans in Europe are more suitable. They were responsible for conquering the Western Slavs and Baltic Prussians and supporting the invasion in Baltic Region. Their state located in Eastern Prussia became a Secular Duchy in 1525.  The Duchy of Prussia was the prime essence of the future Empire of Germany therefore the Teutonic Order can be called as the prime root of the united German nation.

But the Teutonic Order was not yet ready to lead the Crusades in Latvian land for it had a hard time with Prussians. The Crusaders coming from Germany was not members of the Teutonic Order. So Bishop Albert needed strong force for his own to protect Riga and fight the Pagans. The Chronicle of Henry claims that Albert’s right hand man Theodoricus instituted ‘’some Christ’s brothers of knights”. This is recognized by historians as the foundation of new military order. Their emblem on their shirts was cross and swords that’s why they are called as Order of The Brothers of Sword. It is considered that the order was founded in 1202 in Riga. The Order was designed to protect Riga and was first consisted of local Germans of Riga. But they gained more recruits from Germany. Their statutes were derived from Knights Templars and bulla issued by Pope Innocent III made order an subjects of Bishop of Riga.  The Bishop also managed to bring The Cistercian Order to Latvian land. They established their Monastery at Daugavgrīva near Riga.  Conquer of the Latvian land could start now with everything ready.

It was first Livonians who suffered from the order. In year 1203 Livonians were attacked by Duke of Polock who wanted the fees from Livonians. Livonians surrendered and paid the fees to Russians but German knights forced them to leave.  At this same year the Lithuanians together with Visvaldis the ruler of Jersika tried to siege Riga but were forced to retreat. This forced Albert to look for more Crusaders because Lithuanians attacked again. It was clear that a mighty and unified force of Lithuanians was more danger than split Latvian tribes. However the Lithuanians did not care much about Latvian freedom rather for their own security and pillage. They raided Semigallians making them ask for Crusader help. Semigallian king Viestards did much to collaborate with Crusaders to hold off Lithuanians. He sent one hostage from each of his castles to gain German support. It was an old diplomatic practice to give the man as pledge to the other side. If the ruler breaks alliance he risks loosing pledged man’s life who often was his son. The Livonian rulers gave his sons as hostages to guarantee peace with the Germans.  In 1205 the Lithuanian raiders raided Estonian lands and as they came back they were destroyed by unified German-Semigallian force. Next year the Crusaders captured last hostile Livonian strongpoint -the castle of Sala. The surroundings of Riga were now clear from danger. The nobles of Sala requested help to Duke of Polock and his army came to Sala at 1206. Russians together with Livonians of Turaida tried to capture Sala but were forced to retreat.

Germans revenged at Turaida for helping the Russians and burned down the Turaida castle. But they failed to capture the castle of Darbelis on the opposite bank of the river. Therefore at 1207 the Order of the Brothers of Sword had captured all Livonian lands. The next post will show how the Crusaders captured the land of Latgallians and destroyed the beautiful town of Jersika.

Selected sources

Šterns,Indriķis. (2002) Latvijas vēsture, 1180-1290: krustakari. Riga: Latvijas vēstures instūta apgāds.

Militzer, Klaus. (2005) Die Geschichte Des Deutschen Ordens. Stuttgart. Kohlhammer.

Grīnberga L. (Ed.) (1999) Ceļvedis ordeņu vēsturē. Riga. Zvaigzne ABC.

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