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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