Monthly Archives: August 2009

The Legend of Alexander Nevsky

Alexander Nevsky

Alexander Nevsky


Varyags are arriving at Russian Land

While early Baltic tribes had trouble building their nation states, the first form of a united Russian nation formed in the 10th century. Its beginnings are not too clear making controversy among Russian historians and their colleagues from other countries. The main question is- how important was the role of Scandinavian Vikings in the birth of the Russian nation and the state. The Swedish Vikings used large Russian rivers to take the road from Scandinavia to Constantinople the capital of the Byzantine Empire and trade with Arabian Caliphate. They used river Volkhov, Dnepr, and Volga. They also used Daugava which called Dvinsk in Russian. The Russians called Vikings Varyags – (Варяги). The sailors started to settle in local settlements and begin to enforce their rule on local Slavic tribes. They eventually assimilated with local Slavs but kept their contacts with Scandinavia for many years to come. The Varyags established such important and historic centers like Novgorod and Kyiv. Eventually all tribal centers became one large country with Kiev as capital getting name Kievan Rus (Ки́евская Русь).

The country reached highest point when in 988. Vladimir the Great (987.-1015) married the Byzantine princess Anna and converted to Orthodox Christianity for it was the main Byzantine main confession. Russia was placed on the world map and became engaged with Orthodox culture. Today its argued how much was the importance of Scandinavian Varyags. There are interpretations that Varyags was not just Swedes but almost every form  of sailors and raiders not regarding their nationality. Indeed the Primary Chronicle (По́весть временны́х лет) tells Varyags were Norsemen known as the Rus (русь), Swedes, Normans and Angles.  There is another word meaning foreigner of every nationality as nemets (немец) in that time now meaning German. Primary Chronicle also tells that first mighty Russian rulers were Rurik and his brothers from the Norsman (Rus) who started the first Russian dynasty which ruled until the 16th century.

Even if this could mean that Russia could be founded by non-Slavic sailors, they were just elite and elite always are shorter than the lower classes. As said earlier the Varyagian elite became more Slavic and assimilated itself but the name of Russia and Russian people could originate from Rurik and Rus from Norselands.

The Russian writing the Cyrillic alphabet were taken from Bulgaria. The years of Yaroslavl the Wise were Golden years of Kievan Rus. Many marvelous buildings were built  as the Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Kyiv. After the death of Yaroslavl the Rus begun to decay in inner struggle between the heirs of Varyags who battled for the  tittle of Duke and Grand Duke of Rus. The contacts with the western world were weakling and finally in 1097 all Dukes made an agreement which split Rus in many small Russian Duchies.

The Baltic tribes were endangered by Duchies of Polotsk and Novgord Republic. The divided Russian states were in danger from nomadic tribal raiders like Kipchacks who settled across the Black Sea. But in the 13th century the more mortal danger came from the steppes of Mongolia. The mighty Mongolian tribes introduced a medieval Blitzkrieg to Chinese, Persians, Arabs and Indians. And the Russians were their next target. In 1237 the Khan Batu first arrived at Ryazan, Vladimir and Suzdal pillaging and raiding their lands. In 1239-1240 the Mongols returned this time taking Kyiv and making its way to Poland and Hungary. It was only the death of the Grand Khan of Mongols the Genghis Khan’ that saved Western Europe from Mongolian Doom. Khan Batu returned to mainland to fight for the throne.  The Great Mongol Empire divided in various Khanates. Khan Batu became the ruler of the Golden Horde which stretched from the river Irtysh to Danube and to Uralian mountains and North Caucasus.

At this time one of the sons of Mongol imposed Grand Duke Yaroslavl was making his career. He was no other than Alexander Nevsky. He lived in Novgorod. Novgorod for unclear reasons were not sacked by the Mongols. There are versions that Mongols who had cavalry based army distracted from fighting in wooden areas of Novgorod. There are even extreme theories that Mongols were scared off by the large lake monster, who still lives in one of the lakes near Novgorod. Whatever was the cause the Novgorod did not face the doom from the Mongolians. But Novgorod was endangered by Swedes who now was more Crusaders than the Vikings. In 1240 the Swedes started a Crusade to Novgordod. Swedes crossed the river Nev. Alexander aged only 19 managed to assemble a strong army and head to meet the Swedes. Swedes spent too much time on their campsite by river Nev. At July 15 Nevsky attacked the Swedes at their campsite.  Surprised by the attack the Swedes were defeated and destroyed. Alexander got the name Nevsky after this battle. Some historians however, dispute the authenticity of this event, as it was mentioned only by Orthodox sources and not mentioned in Western Catholic chronicles. It could be just be a skirmish, however it created a legend of Alexander Nevsky.

Nevsky prepares for battle. From movie Alexander Nevsky 1938

But it was not the only wonder done by Alexander. In 1242 new threats from German Crusaders came. In 1240 the Livonian Order lead by Bishop-Prince Hermann of Dorpat attacked the lands of Novgord and captured Pskov. The people of Novgorod requested Alexanders help, he was in Pereslavl at this time. Next year he took back Pskov and on April 5 1242  he met the Crusaders on the narrow strait connecting the parts of lake Piepus. He fooled the over confident Crusaders making them stepping on the frozen lake. The slippery frozen ice gave disadvantages to Crusaders whose armor was too heavy. At last they tried to retreat but got themselves even deeper on the frozen ice fields, finally the ice started to collapse dooming the too heavy knights. However, as modern research shows that ice collapse never took place as it was not mentioned in the sources, and this dramatic episode was created in the 1938 Soviet movie.

Alexander Nevsky stopped the Western Crusader advance. By this he also sealed the border of Livonia to the east that later became borders of Estonia and Latvia. It was the Poles who again tried to intervene Russia in the 16th century during the Times of Troubles. But in the field with Mongolian invaders Nevsky showed a different face. He collaborated with Mongols helping to quell any uprisings against invaders. But he did that because he could not resist the Horde as he could do with the Crusaders. He tried to keep the most modest relations with Mongols to keep his own power and save Russia from Western Crusaders which he viewed as more dangerous than the Mongols.  As so he kept Russia as Orthodox land and helped to strengthen up the Muscovite State which was the root of the Russian Empire. He saved the Russians from more serious Mongol attacks and when after long years since his death, the Russian Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible finally pushed away the Mongolian invaders. Novgorod paid heavy price – in 1570 Ivan IV invaded Novgorod that had rule of republic and trade and political ties with the west and sacked the city killing at least 2 thousand people. The Republic of Novgorod was rival to the despotic Muscovy and Tsar Ivan IV wanted to monopolize his power over the Russian cities.

Alexander Nevsky has considered as a holy figure since his death in Russian culture. He is canonized as a saint. The Russian Emperor Peter I The Great issued a beautiful military decoration the Order of Saint Alexander Nevsky. Stalin also ordered to make a Soviet Order of Alexander Nevsky for his war generals. Also a movie by Sergei Eisenstein the Alexander Nevsky was done in 1938. It’s a classic piece of cinematic art. The movie came as a propagandist warning that Russia is capable of defeating any Western enemy. Since the main enemy was German Teutonic Knights they were symbolized as German Nazis in the minds of viewers of that time. However, when in August 23 1939 the Soviet Union created alliance with Nazi Germany, the movie was removed from public viewing. After the war with Germany broke out in 1941, the movie again became popular as it’s message was clear – that who invades Russia with spear, dies from spear.

In 2008 Russian TV show Name of the Russia Alexander Nevsky was voted as the greatest Russian in all times. He was capable of defeating Stalin, Peter I and Lenin showing that the legend of 19 year old man capable of defeating the western enemy is very favorable for present day Russians. However, skeptics pointed that popular vote was manipulated to avoid rather controversial first place for Stalin. Since the present day Russian government is confronting the Western countries, the Alexander Nevsky is considered as hero in Russia.


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The Livonian Order

Livon ord

The Seal of Livonian Order

The German Crusader disaster in 1236 at the battle of Saule marked a major change in events of the Crusades in the whole Baltic region. The core of the leadership of The Order of The Brothers of Sword was eliminated and Order could no longer function properly. This was the bitter danger for the German power in the Latvian land. Riga needed protection, the earlier conquered lands needed to be held against still free Pagan tribes. A large portion of Curonians and Semigallians were free from Crusader rule and not to mention the Lithuanians who could make a powerful raid against Germans. So proper action was needed to be done to save whole Crusader campaign in the Baltic.

Unlucky for early Latvian tribes a powerful alternative was found- the Teutonic Order or The German Order. Details about this order was described in a post about Order of The Brothers of Sword. At this time when the Brothers of Sword were destroyed the Teutonic Order was the best power to take its part in conquering the Latvian land. Even before the battle of Saule the Master of the Order tried to make deal with the Teutonic Order. But no deal was made. After the battle pope Gregor IX forced the Teutonic Order to incorporate The Brothers of Sword in their ranks with condition that King of Denmark gets his lost land in Northern Estonia back including the city of Revel (Tallin). In 1237 The Grand Master of Teutonic Order Herman from Salza declared the full incorporation of Brothers and give the mission to Heman Balke to go to Riga and consolidate the situation in Livonia and  fulfill the pope’s orders. At this time the conquered Latvia and Estonia was called Livonia or the Terra Mariana (Land of Saint Mary). So in future posts the German acquired lands will be called Livonia. This name was used for many centuries to name the lands of Estonia and Latvia even after the breakdown of Livonian Confederation.

Herman from Balke made his voyage to Livonia with escort or 60 knights, enough to compensate the causalities of Saule. In 1238 June 7 he finished talks with Danes and gave their lost lands back. This was protested by ex-Brothers of Sword who were the ones who detracted the land from the Danes. But the protesters were removed from their posts and some of them were even sent to the Holy Land (Palestine). New knights did not show any sign of protest against this deal.

The Teutonic Order did not conquer the Brother of Sword lands but acquired them legally. The old form of ruling structure was kept and many ex-Sword brothers kept their seats. However the new Master Dietrich from Gröningen no longer wanted to cooperate with old Sword Brothers and removed them from their office and took their lands. Since the Livonia and Prussia which was the main Teutonic base of operations was separated from each other, the knights of Livonia became the Livonian Order. It was still a branch of Teutonic Order fully depended on it, but still kept some form of free action in their zone of operations. Since the Teutonic Order was rich organization the Livonian Order could get enough supplies and reinforcements to make their wars more effective than Brothers of Sword.

In 1240 Livonian Order   captured Russian city Pskov but were defeated by legendary Duke Alexander Nevskya  on the ice covered lake Piepuss in 1242 This battle was an even bitter failure than a battle of Saule and stopped the German Drang nach Osten (Drive to the East) for many centuries. After that the Order took their attention on easier targets in Courland.  Order started to build castles in Courland like the castle of Kuldīga (Goldingen) and castle of Klaipėda (Memel). Crusaders managed to take control of Lithuanian coast making Lithuania a land locked country for many centuries.  In 1252 The Lithuanian Ruler Mindaugas finally agreed to baptize and was recognized by Pope as legitimate Catholic King. Since Crusaders had no progress with the conquer of Lithuania, making them officially Christians was the only thing what they could do. Mindaugas gave Samogottia to Order, but Order was too weak to actually take it.

Mindaugas was a bloody tyrant and double-crosser; some years after the Order was forced to fight with him and in 1260 alongside Curonians, the Lithuanians defeated the Order near Durbe. Two years later Mindaugas was killed by conspirators and Lithuania switched back to Paganism.  Despite that the Order survived the blow and defeated Curonians and finally Semigallians and established numerous outposts around Livonia, like Dünaburg (Daugavpils) and Mitau (Jelgava) which became an important cities.

After the defeat of the last native resistance the Order established himself as the primary power in the Livonian Confederation. It ruled the most lands in Livonia and was the main defense force of the confederation.  It had to rival with Archbishop of Riga who ruled large lands in Vidzeme and administration of Riga who desired more freedom from the Order and the Church. This caused Civil Wars between Riga and the Order. Later Order again acquired Northern Estonia and Revel. The Order lived until 1561 when forced by Livonian breakdown the last Grand Master of the Livonian Order Gothard Ketler became the Duke of Courland and Semigallia.

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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1939.23.08-2009. An anniversary of day that changed history

freundshaft 39

Frendship 1939

I am intending to follow historical articles by linear time line way from the old to the present, but date 39.23.08. is far too important to miss its 70 anniversary. For it was the Non-aggression pact between National socialist Germany and Socialist Communist Soviet Union that changed the lives of millions and continued to perceive its hard burden on generations to come. The pact inevitably lead to World War II and destruction of three Baltic republics, Poland and many other sovereign countries for years to come. Speculations of reasons signing this criminal agreement and theories of its importance continues on both academic and public fields. Since the fall of Soviet Union the discussion has become stronger with fanatical factions of historians and writers and movie directors who tries push their point of view on this agreement.

In the late thirties the danger of Nazi Germany has become the center of attention. Adolf Hitler was eagerly convinced that the injustice of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) needs to be terminated, and that included annexing of lost territories by any means necessary. First the Rheinland in 1936, then Austria in 1938, and finally the Czechoslovakia in 1939. This could be done because of rather slowminnded British-French appeasement policies who tried to ”appease” Hitler by filing  his demands. After occupation of Czechoslovakia it was clear that Hitlers appetite for more lands has not gone weaker and now he was committed to get even larger peace of land namely Poland. British and French politicians now begun to look for a way to stop Hitler. And thats were the Moscow came in. Since Germans would fear from two front war the British-French agreement with Soviets it was the only possible solution to avoid war. But de facto leader General secretary of Communist Party Joseph Stalin had other plans.

After the death of Wladimir Lenin in 1924. slowly and steady Stalin took power of whole Communist party and the Soviet Union. Before him the main goal by leaders such as Lenin or Trotsky was to trigger world scale socialist revolution. This was attempted in 1917.-1922. but ended in failure. Stalin took more pragmatic approach on “building Socialism in sole state”. However the hope for new world revolution newer vanished from Stalin’s mind and the speech made by Stalin in 1939. 19. august showed that Stalin has a point of view of present events on its own. The speech is considered fabricated by some, but most modern historians agree that it actually took place.

In the speech Stalin rightfully acknowledges the position of Soviet Union in the possible war and peace solution as the primary. If Soviet Union makes deal with France and UK the Germany will be forced to cancel its invasion plans on Poland. The Germans would be forced to look for modus vivendi with Western powers. But that would be disadvantageous for Soviet Union or even dangerous. Instead he proposed signing agreement with Germany. On this basis the Germany will attack Poland and war between Germany and France and UK would be inevitable. On this scenario the Soviet Union could wait for suitable moment to enter war itself, but before it can have free hand on Baltic nations and Romanian ex-Russian possession the Bessarabia (nowadays Moldova) and more nations in Eastern Europe. In conclusion he emphasized again that war between The Reich and capitalist French-British block is in the “interest of workers motherland” and that the war “must continue as long it can and exhausts the both sides” If this speech has taken place and by most word it has than its clear explanation why Soviets signed the pact with Germans not with British.

There were a attempts of making talks with western powers before the 23. august, French and British diplomats arrived by ship to Leningrad but no progress was made since Stalin showed little interest and delayed the talks making them dead-end. British and French were also not ready sign any agreement if it would meant the annexation of Baltic states and making border with Germany even thought the Poland was still in between.

After the western-soviet talks failed in 19. august the Soviet People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov met the German ambassador Verner Fridrich fon der Shulenburg and stated that the Soviet government is ready to meet German Foriegn Minister Joahim fon Ribentrop in Moscow. He gave him project of non aggression pact which gave anything Germany could wanted, but only if a secret protocol regarding foreign issues would be included. Ribentrop was to welcomed at 26. august. But Hitler was not fully satisfied for his plan was to attack Poland on 26. august. So he wrote a personal letter to “mister Stalin” informing him that he supports the project of the agreement but wishes to arrange Ribentrops arrival on 22. or 23. august for the situation between Germany and Poland is “tense and unbearable”. The last phraze was intended to make Stalin believe that war could occur any moment.

On afternoon of 23. august Ribentrop arrived on Moscow by plane and the talks begun. The “polish problem” was solved easily but Baltic states made some difficulties. Hitler set the border of the ”sphere of interest” across river Daugava therefore splitting Latvia in half between Germans and Soviets. This was not tolerated by Stalin who wanted all ports of Curland. Ribentrop was forced to send telegram asking Hitler what to do. Hitler did not bother to argue on Baltic problem and gave rest of Latvia to Soviets. Lithuania was left to Germany. So now everything was ready to sign one of the criminal deal of the history of mankind. Finland, Estonia, Latvia and part of Poland and Romania was sold by Hitler to Stalin to make his desired attack on Poland. These nations were marked as a ”Soviet sphere of interest”, meaning that they are free for invasion, occupation and annexation. It was dead pact for Poland and for Baltic states in the next year. It is an open question what would Hitler do if there is no non-aggression pact signed. Would he still risk to attack Poland even if could mean war in two fronts? Other question was the Hitler was aware that attack on Poland could cause declaration of war from France and UK. Numerous sources states that Hitler was convinced that Brits and French would stay neutral and when he learned that they have declared war, he in deep shock asked “What now?”.


Poland divided by secret protocols

But what we know is that the secret protocol of 23. august and two later signed which changed the borders, by adding more land to Soviet Union, destroyed Poland in 1939. causing the outbreak of Second World war, took 10% of territory from Finland in a result of Winter war in 1939.-1940. That the protocols caused the end of three Baltic nations annexing them in Soviet Union for next 50. years, that it caused the annexation of Bessarabia from Romania which is now an independent country of Moldova. The Moldova is direct result of Molotov-Ribentrop pact. And that a large lands now in Belarus and Ukraine once belonged to Poland. The protocols affected life’s of millions for they made World War II possible. The effects of Molotov-Ribentrop pact will probably will newer be fully repaired. The only success is restoration of Baltic states independence. In 1989. 23. august marking the date a large protest demonstration called the “Baltic Way” took place. People from all three Baltic nations gathered in live chain from Vilnius to Tallin showing unity against unjustified Soviet regime. That showed that the end of Soviet Union a country that helped to cause the Second World war is drawing near.

balrtijas cels

The Baltic Way demonstration in 1989

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The Crusade in Semigallia and Battle of Saule in 1236


Battle of Saule.

Divide et impera- Divide and Rule or Divide or Conquer was the main strategy used by Crusaders against early Latvian tribes and it worked perfectly all the way. But following this strategy the last conquered force was usually the strongest and resisted till the last man standing. In this case it was the Semigallians who was the hardest nut for the Crusaders. Semigallians together with Lithuanians caused the most causalities for the Crusaders and even brought them at the brink of destruction. But it was not enough to defeat them completely because Semigallians cared little to help other tribes and fought only for themselves. That’s why divide et impera strategy works when resistance lacks unity. But despite of that the Semigallian resistance and victory at Saule needs detailed look, for every form of resistance needs to be judged.

German merchants visited Semigallian trade ports before the start of the Crusade. The port named Semigallia located near the river island Dole in a river of Daugava was attacked by the Russians of Polotsk and Livonians. When the Crusaders came the Livonians took control of this port. At 1185 and 1203 Semigallians attacked Crusader strong point’s trying to drive them out of river Daugava waterway. But the Crusaders were too strong and Semigallians were forced to make peace. This was because of Lithuanian threat who made large raids against Semigallians, Livonians, Latgalians, Estonians and even the people of Saami. This caused the Semigallian ruler of Tervete Viestards to offer an alliance to the Germans against the Lithuanians. To ensure the power of alliance the Crusaders asked to send hostages from every Semigallian palace to them. And Viestards did so, showing he had a strength to control large parts of Semigallia. The alliance did not command the Semigallians to convert to Christianity. Together they defeated the Lithuanians, this vital for both sides for the Lithuanian forces could destroy them both.

In 1206 and 1208 the Semigallian- Crusader alliance was still functioning, for they both attacked the Livonian castle of Turaida and attacked Lithuanians. But in 1208 when Crusaders made incursions into Lithuanian land the Semigallians left Crusaders alone against the Lithuanians. This marked the end of the alliance. In 1210 when Curonians tried to take Riga from the sea the Semigallians were asked to help them. But they just awaited the end of battle and when Curonians failed they retreated without a fight. We could only speculate what could happen if a joint Curonian-Semigallian strike on Riga from land and sea could occur.

But in 1219 Semigallians were again atacked by Lithuanians. Again they asked for Crusader help, but this time they only offered help when castle of Mežotne was forced to baptize. But Viestards of Tervete was against this and broke formal alliance with the Crusaders and siege the Crusader occupied Mežotne. In the bitter battle he lost the son of his sister and retreated, but then he crushed the reinforcements from Riga. The small garrison of Mežotne was forced to flee. Now Semigallians was fully against Crusaders and even made alliances with Lithuanians. This decision was probably based on forced baptizing of Mežotne castle.  Semigallians finally witnessed the German Crusaders as the true enemy rather than Lithuanians. Lithuanians were not primarily interested in taking Semigallian land or freedom but Crusaders certainly had this desire.

In 1220 the Crusaders took a revenge action against the “heathen peoples” of Mežotne. A large force commanded by Bishop Albert himself assembled with siege weapons attacked the Mežotne. The powerful siege weapons destroyed the wooden walls and defenders were forced to ask peace. Crusaders wanted full capitulation which was overruled by the defenders and the battle continued. At this time the forces by Viestards and Lithuanians were near the battle site, but again for some reason they did not take active part in the battle. Mežotne was burned to the ground and this showed that Semigallians were divided in their own ranks. Mežotne was an eastern Semigallian castle, Viestards was western Semmigalian ruler. Because the Mežotne declined his rule he left it in dismay. His army could easily attack Crusaders from the back ending the siege and gain important victory. But his own ambitions were too strong to help his fellow tribesman.

In 1236 the major event took place. The new party of the Crusaders came from Holstein, Germany. The bulla by Pope issued the war against Lithuanian pagans. In September 1236 the Crusaders attacked some Samogitian settlements. On their return they faced armed forces of Samogitian at the river crossing. Crusaders refused to fight because they may lose their horses in the swampland. Others refused to fight on foot and knights were forced to camp for the night. Next day a large force by Lithuanians and Samogitians lead by Duke Vykintas and Mindaugas the – future king of Lithuania assembled near the camp. They attacked the Crusaders in their camp and killed them and forced them all to flee. But the fleeing Knights were allegedly killed by Semigallians. So the Brothers of Sword lost 48 men the core of the Order and this was a disaster.


The battle sheds many mysteries and myths. For instance we don’t know  the exact site of the battle. There are two possible variants- the village Vecsaule in Latvia near Bauska could be the site. The other site in Lithuania is the city of Šiauliai. Saule means sun in both Latvian and Lithuanian languages. So it could occur in both places associated with name Saule.

The next thing about the Battle of Saule is the myth of Baltic unity in the events of the battle. Nationalists tend to believe that Crusader defeat was a achieved both by Lithuanians and Latvians. The Semigallians killed the departing Crusaders on their way to Riga so they helped the crush of Order in some way, but it’s rather skeptical that they acted together with Lithuanians. They just witnessed the Crusader defeat and took the chance to kill some running Crusaders. It was really a Lithuanian achievement, the Semmigallian role, if they even had a role was the role of running rat trapper. But despite of that the September 22, the date of the battle,  is officially considered as Baltic Unity Day. It’s not a holiday, but it serves as the date for nationalists and Medieval fans to celebrate the battle. Usually the simulations of battle occur and folk bands gather around. The first pagan metal album of band Skyforger is named after the Battle of Saule. The album is a classic example of the history of Latvian heavy metal. Even more classic is the painting by Voldemar Vimba showing both Baltic nations destroying the enemy.

The Battle of Saule in 1236 was an epic event which halted the Crusader advance for decades. Semigallians were at peace for some years but Lithunians showed that they were too strong to be easily taken. The Order of Brotherhood of Sword ceased to exist because of the enormous casualties. To look at this event from a skeptical point of view the victory took place because of Crusader adventurism and incompetence. They left themselves exposed to Lithuanians when they decided to camp down instead of immediate action. But the importance of the battle is not questionable it was the main failure of Crusader invasion. It was enough to halt the advance on Lithuania, but not enough to stop advancing against Curonians and Semigallians. This will be discussed in future posts.

Selected Sources

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

Baltijas valstu vēsture : mācību līdzeklis (2000). Riga. Zvaigzne ABC.

Biļķins, Vilis, (1973) Zemgaliešu brīvības cīņas. Minneapolis. Sēļzemnieka apgāds.

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Crusade against Curonians

Map of Curonian lands before Crusades

After two vital territories of Latvian land had fallen in Crusader hands, it was time to take another free land by force. Courland was unaffected by Crusaders until this day, but now it was their time to take it. The crusaders were aware of Curonian danger- in  1201 Curonians attacked Riga and in 1201 and in  1210 their attack was so great that Riga almost fell. They came from the sea just like Vikings trying to storm the Crusader capital, but were forced to fall back. In 1228 in August 20 Curonians together with Semigallians attacked the Monastery of Daugavgrīva and slaughtered all the monks inside. Crusaders retaliated next year with raid in Curonian lands killing locals and burning farm fields which caused famine. Because of lack of food Curonians were forced to promise converting to Christianity and ally with the Crusaders. At this same year, namely 1229. Bishop Albert died leaving his subjects to continue his mission.


Curonians are attacking Riga from the sea

In 1230 the land of Cursa was forced to sign an agreement with Crusaders. The document containing agreement is first perceived document between Crusaders and locals.  An agreement was signed by Riga Dome Capitolium, Brothers of Sword, and Riga town council and Curonian elders. The agreement forced Curonians to baptize, they were forced to pay fees to Riga and take part in the war against Pagans. The agreement does not give any duties for Crusaders to Curonians. This makes wonder why Crusaders needed such agreement? It could be that the reason was the arrival of new Papal Vice-Legate  Balduin of Alna (from episcopacy of Liège, Belgium) who in December 28 signed agreement with Middle Cursan ruler Lamekin which made him to baptize and becoming a subject of the Pope. This could anger the Crusaders who wanted the land themselves. If Crusaders and town council of Riga knew the Pope’s plan to make a Papal state in Cursa they wanted to sign the deal with Curonians, before Balduin.

This caused conflict between Pope Gregory IX and Crusaders of Riga. Balduin complained to the Curia of Rome, Riga town council was forced to write acquittal letter to Rome and bargained third of land of Cursa from new Bishop Nickolaus. Lamekin ruled large portions of land and were called ”king” (rex) by Germans. Therefore it was important who would rule his lands. In  1231 January 17 Balduin again signed deal with Curonians and made all the lands a Popes property. Crusaders could not act instantly, they were busy driving out Danes from Estonia. Things changed when they managed to recall Balduin in 1234, he was changed by Wilhelm from Moden who was more friendly to Crusaders and given 1/3 land of Cursa to the Order. After the destruction of the Order of the Brothers of Sword in the  1236,  the Teutonic order took control of all Crusader operations on Latvian land. The new Livonian Order restarted their war against Curonians who enjoyed freedoms under Pope’s legate. Curonians were crushed and Curland was split between new Episcopacy of Curland and Livonian Order. Despite that Curonians still managed to resist, mainly thanks to Lithuanians who helped to defeat a Crusader force at the battle of Durbe in 1260. But Livonian Order could survive this blow and continue oppressing Curonians. The small portions of resistance lasted until 1267.

In one of the first posts I described how bravely Curonians fought against the Vikings. But the Vikings were not committed to  conquer Curland but make daring raids. The Crusaders were far more stronger and superior to Curonians. Curonians overall showed by my thought much more lesser resistance to Crusaders than Livonians. Curonians in  1230 already exposed themselves to the Crusaders by signing agreements with them. Again the strong tribe fell because the lack of combined resistance, cowardly rulers like Lamekins and the guile of the Crusaders.

Selected sources

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

Zeids, Teodors (Ed.) (1978). Feodālā Rīga. Riga: Latvijas PSR Zinātņu akadēmija. Vēstures institūts.

Biļķins, Vilis, (1973) Zemgaliešu brīvības cīņas. Minneapolis. Sēļzemnieka apgāds.

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The collaboration of Ruler Kaupo


Kaupo. Book by Ārijs Geikins

When organized society becomes subjects of foreign invasion it usually splits into three groups. The first is passive, people who accept the situation and goes with the flow; the second is those who actively resist the invasion by all means necessary. But the third group is the collaborationist’s. They seek to make contact with the invaders, support them and even make crimes against own people to sympathize the invaders. This is watched as the act of treason from others. But for such action there are always many reasons. First is naive trust that invaders could bring new hope to his people and help them.  This is one of the most common reasons for collaboration. If man is disillusioned in his present society then he believes that invader could change it. Eventually he becomes disillusioned and feeling used. He may keep his position in agony or try to come back to his old side. But there is certain extent of collaborators who collaborates with the enemy for his own personal subjective reasons. One could do that for his personal profit, the other finds collaborating with the enemy as his only way to get the power of his own. These are the worse kind of collaborationist’s; they will do anything to destroy his own people to keep his power and will never regret it.

The collaboration is the controversial question in every country and enough to destroy one man’s life. During the times of Latvian history especially in 20 century the collaboration has happened in various ways. This man was already mentioned in many previous posts the Livonian Ruler Kaupo.  He is mostly known for his famous trip to Rome where he met the Pope himself and his wars against his own people.  Why he supported the Crusaders when others resisted- this will be discussed in this post.

Kaupo ruled the Livonian lands in Turaida. He was one of the first indigenous rulers to be met by German missionaries. He was one of the first to become baptized. Livonians had no clear knowing of the teachings of Christianity, their rather did for diplomatic reasons, hoping that new strangers would guarantee them protection and other goods. Christian God and Christ were just another Paganic deity to them. However some sources report that Christianity was important for himself so this could be the reason why he agreed to take a journey to Rome. Kaupo was baptized by brother Theodoricus and according to Chronicle of Henry together they visited Rome  1203. To Livonians and early Latvians the geographical aspects of the world could be very plain. In Medieval times there were people who rarely left the area around their home villages and had no perceptions of far away places. The most average Livonians must not even heard of such Rome or Pope who is ruling there. This means that Kaupo was intelligent enough to take such voyage to place of he could only imagine. According to Chronicler Henry he really managed to get to Rome and meet the Pope Innocent III himself. We can only imagine how the glorious Rome looked to the man who lived in wooden fortress and knew nothing of stone castles and churches. The glorious foundation of Rome and its riches blinded the semi-barbaric Livonian ruler. It’s also sounds fantastic that he met the Innocent III the man who was more powerful than any other secular ruler of his time. It was not the only mission of Theodoricus to show first baptized Pagan ruler to the Pope, but to make deals to found the Order of Brothers of Sword.  But it was ideologically important to show the new world order to the Pagan so he would help them at all costs. In the beginning of every invasion it’s important to deceive the natives so they fall easily for the oppression.

However the other aspects say the Kaupo was forced to baptize and follow Crusaders orders, because they took his son as hostage and threatened to take him to Germany. But the voyage to Rome was enough to make him a follower of the Crusaders. In the result he was exiled from his castle by his own people who saw him as a traitor. Kaupo together with Crusaders attacked his own castle killing his relatives and friends. After his castle perished in flames he spent days with the Crusaders in their castle at Cesis. Kaupo took part in Crusader attacks against the Livonians and early other Latvians. In 1216 when Livonian revolted against Crusader rule, Kaupo helped to quell the uprising. He fought for the Crusader cause until  1217 when he was killed in action in castle Vilande Estonia. The Chronicler Henry who eagerly counted all his actions in the name of the Christian God does not give the kind words of Kaupo moving to the gates of Paradise as he would give to the German knights. The collaborator is never truly loved by his owner he is used until he is useful.


Kaupo meets the Pope

However we cannot punish Kaupo as the first Latvian traitor. At first he was Livonian, second there more men like him who were forced to support the invaders.  His actions cannot be considered as positive because he supported the Crusader invasion and attacked his own people. The story of Kaupo is a typical tragedy of one man who becomes victim of invader propaganda and is forced to doom his own people. Such peoples will never be understood completely but their legacy will forever exist.

Selected sources:

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

Boiko. K. (Ed.) (1994) Lībieši : rakstu krājums. Riga: Zinātne.

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The mystery of the Castle Beverina

Thanks to the enormous efforts of Latvian archaeologists we know the exact locations of various early Latvian castles. But despite of that there is one mysterious place which is only noted in German chronicles, but no one has ever yet found the location of this castle. In the area of possible location there are many possible sites, where locals fiercely defend their rights of the righteous castle location. The academics also put themselves in a complicated discussion of the real location. The question- “Where’s Beverina?” is one of the unsolved mysteries of the Latvian history.

When Crusaders gained full control of the Daugava waterway, they needed the second vital waterway of the river Gauja. The river Gauja never leaves the Latvian present territory, but it serves as an important path to such Russian centers as Novgorod and Pleskau. The Crusaders started their way to Gauja by attacking and enslaving local Livonians. There was an important role for Livonian ruler Kaupo who helped to conquer his own people, but there is more detailed post needed about this controversial person. During the 1206-1212 the Crusaders established their lands across Daugava.  In  1210 the Crusaders started to build the castle of Cesis, the future residence of the Order. In  1212 a bitter conflict between Latgalians of Autīne and Crusaders took place. Local Livonians joined the resistance. This was the final time when Livonians understood completely that the Order wants their land and their freedom. The uprising ended when Crusaders lead by Crusader Albert captured the castle Satesele. The next victims of the Crusaders were lands of Metsepole and Idumeja also Imera.

Next there was a legendary land of Tālava– Latgalian ruled by Tālivaldis and his sons. According to historian E. Mugurēvičš Tālava was located in the district of Trikāta. Chronicle of Henry describes that Talvavians were either Pagans or Orthodox Christians.  The residence of Tālivaldis is called Beverīna according to Chronicler Henry (de Beverin). The name of the castle was mentioned 16 times in the Chronicle, but newer given clear location of it. It was probably in the district of Trikāta because it is stated that in  1208 Estonians attacked and sieged the Beverina castle located at Trikāta district. The citation to find Beverina castle is such: “Estonians retreated from the castle of Cesis, crossed Gauja and took an night rest by the lake which is located near the road of Beverina, but brothers of Cesis [the Crusaders] and Kaupo with Livonians and Latgalians chased them at morning and halted at the same lake to take breakfast and send the scouts and guards forward, some of then returned and informed that Estonians was running away across Imera”.  The Cesis is located at the left bank of Gauja than this means that Beverina road and the castle must be located at the right side of the river Gauja.

What was the lake where Estonians took night rest and the Crusaders took breakfast? And where the road of Beverina was leading? The two largest lakes at this location is lake of Vaidava and Burtnieks. Near lake Vaidava there are two known foothills- the hill of Vaidava and Cimpēnu hill. The Beverina could be located on those hills, but they never were researched by archaeologists to give a clear answer. In a recent publication done by historian Andrejs Lucāns the both hills are not considered as sites of Beverina. Chronicle states that Tālivaldis was baptized into Christianity. And the Chronicler Henry who was a priest, took his part of holy duty at Imera, therefore he mentions Beverina so many times. He praises Tālivaldis for his baptizing and tells how Tālivaldis died: “the Estonians baked Tālivaldis like fish until he passed out and died”. The Estonians killed him at the castle of Trikāta, when he was an old man. In his older years he no longer spent days in castle of Beverina, but with his sons at Trikāta. The historian Indriķis Šterns states that Beverina was not a large castle with large walls. It was only because the Chronicler Henry whose church at Rubene was so close to Beverina, the castle became so important.

But he did not give a clear answer where his beloved baptized king’s residence was exactly located. The Beverina was raised to the ground at year 1216. The name slowly disappeared from people’s memory until at late 19 century and beginning of the 20th century when poet Auseklis restored the myth of Beverina and composer Jāzeps Vītols made the song of the same name.  This started the academic search for Beverina. In year 2008 the historian Andrejs Lucāns made his version that Beverina was located at the city of Valmiera. In year 2009 the new administrative reform made the district of Beverina located near Valmiera. The nearby districts were dissatisfied with this claiming that three joined parishes of Kauguri, Brenguļi does not have any right to be called under Beverina’s name. This shows how unclear legends and statements and various versions becomes a reality. Surely no Latvian historian has not found out the real location of Beverina yet. We can thank the poet Auseklis for his poem “The melodist of Beverina” (1876) for giving the lost castle Beverina in light of knowledge once again.

The location of the present day Beverina district where Beverina could once stood.

Selected Sources:

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

Lucāns, Andrejs. (2008) Ceļš uz Beverīnas pils indentifikāciju. In journal Latvijas Vēsture. Jaunie un Jaunākie Laiki. Nr. 4 (72)


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