Monthly Archives: November 2009

November 11- The Bear Slayer Day


The military order of Bear Slayer

The date November 11  is a landmark date for Latvian Freedom Fighters. In this day the defenders of Riga defeated the pro-German Voluntary Western Russia army or simply the army of Bermont.

On 1918 November 18 the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed in Riga. First year of Latvian state was troublesome, because it had many enemies. The Baltic Germans wanted Latvia as German state, the Soviets in Russia wanted to establish a soviet regime.

At first Germans were forced to acknowledge new state but secretly conspired against it. Germans were aware of the growing threat from the Soviets. In December Soviets came to Latvia. Latvian state had small military forces and they were dependent on German soldiers who remained there after the capitulation of German Empire. But the Soviet forces were all too strong and Latvians along with Germans retreated to Courland.  Soviets established  red government in Riga. The government by Pēteris Stučka tried to make social reforms, and made full scale nationalization of farm lands. At first simple Latvians greeted the Soviets, because they offered bread and land. What Karlis Ulmanis national government offered was not enough for them. But soon the peasants became disappointed because of land nationalization and growing protests forced the Soviets to start Red Terror.

At the same time the Latvian national government was at Liepāja. The commander of German armed forces Ridiger Fon der Gotlz planned to overthrow the national government. In 1919 April 16 Germans tried to arrest the Karlis Ulmanis government, but the whole government except two MP’s escaped to ship Saratov. Despite the failure, Germans made new government lead by Clergyman Andrievs Niedra. At this time in Latvia were three governments, Latvian, Soviet and German. The Germans captured Riga and started the White Terror. Goltz ordered his forces to march into Estonia. He wanted to get rid both Latvian and Estonian governments. But this ended in failure as Estonian- Latvian forces defeated Germans in May 22 at Cesis.

The pro – German government ceased to exist and Germans were ordered to leave. The Western Allied powers choose to support Latvian government. In the mean time Soviets were still at Latgalia. Latvians planed to drive them out. But Germans got other plans.



In August Germans  allied with Caucasian Cossack adventurer Pavel Bermont-Avalov. He was a Munchausen type adventurer who claimed that he is a  Count. In reality he was a puppet of Goltz  and was dilettante commander. Germans planed that the Bermontd army will disguise as White Guard army against Soviets. Bermont demanded that his army crosses the river Daugava to enter Russia. This meant that his army will take over most parts of Latvia and probably will destroy the Latvian government.

 Karlis Ulmanis rejected this. Bermont army consisted German soldiers and Russian prisoners of war. They had tanks, artillery and airplanes. Latvian army was weak, they had bad equipment, short of cannons and even lacked boots. But the Latvian army was not so weak as shown in the movie The Guards of Riga, it was assembled and ready for war and deeply patriotic. The government was sure of their selves, there was no one to object need to defend Riga. The unpatriotic and cowardly statesman Niedre in the movie the The Guards of Riga is the bad taste of fiction.

Bemont army had 50,000 men, Latvia had 39, 000 men. Bermont army  seized Courland and marched to Riga. At October his army entered the outskirts of Riga. But the  Latvian army managed to cut bridge over river Daugava so Bermont could not pass. The bridge was not destroyed completely as the movie shows, but just cut in half.


Latvian soldiers in positions at days of fighting


The soldiers defending the Town Square

Bermont and Goltz were surprised that Allies showed support to the Latvian army. Their troops could not seize Riga. Then the allied battleships arrived and started to shell the Bermont army. On November 10-11 Latvians with the support of Allied battleships and Estonian armored trains crossed the river and encircled Bermontians and they were forced to flee.

The day of victory is celebrated as the Bear Slayer day. This is because of the new military award the Order of Bear Slayer was established to honor the soldiers. The name of the order comes from 19th century heroic epoch “Bear Slayer” by Andrejs Pumpurs.


After the victory soldiers are awarded with Order of Bear Slayer

Selected Sources:

Pētersone, Inga. (1999)  Latvijas Brīvības cīņas, 1918-1920 : enciklopēdija. Riga: Preses Nams.

Bērziņš, Valdis. (2000) 20. gadsimta Latvijas vēsture. I, Latvija no gadsimta sākuma līdz neatkarības pasludināšanai, 1900-1918. Riga: Latvijas vēstures institūta apgāds.

Lācis, Visvaldis (2001) Latviešu zemes un tautas vēsture. Rīga : ASF Saules koks : Vieda.

Bleiere, Daina, Butulis, Ilgvars, Stranga, Aivars, Feldmanis, Inesis and Zunda, Antonijs. (2006) History of Latvia : the 20th century. Riga: Jumava.



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Medieval Money in Latvia

Field of science researching coins and banknotes is called Numismatics. Coins are a great source from you can research the financial and monetary system in the past. Coins are also good to explore the state symbols and personalities, for the coin often depicts state prominences and symbols.

Before the introduce of coin, prehistoric people  used barter to exchange various things. Barter was used in many prehistoric societies. When civilizations got more complicated they required a more stable way of exchange.  In Baltic lands, the most valuable piece of trade was amber. Amber is fossilized   tree resin. It originates from deep pre-human times and can only be found on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Most amber is found in Lithuania and Kaliningrad Oblast Russia and on the shores at Courland, Latvia. Ancient Greeks and Romans found amber very beautiful and useful for jewelry. Ancient Greek scientists found that amber can make electricity.  First signs of amber trade were found Middle Neolithic Stone Age. At the swamp village of Sārnate locals built amber manufacture. They exchanged amber for flint and shale work tools.


In Bronze Age early Latvians already maintained both stockraising and farming economy and craftsmanship. Now locals exchanged cattle, animal fur, amber to bronze casting and bronze tools. First deposits date from this time.

The first coins in Latvia come from Roman Empire. Roman historian Tacitus in his Germania, writes that local Baltic tribes Aesti (probably Balts) receives a money reward with wonder for their amber. It’s probably because local Balts did not know what to do with coin money; they viewed it as just as some pieces of metal. Despite that they kept and made deposits and took them in their graves, believing it could be valuable in the afterlife.  The main Roman value was Libra (pound). After the fall of the Roman Empire and the chaos in Europe Latvia did not receive any coins until 8th century. The main currency was silver which came from Russia and Scandinavia.

At the 9th century Latvia received a large amount of Arab Dirhams. Arabian Caliphate was the main power in that time and it traded with Kievan Russ and the Dirhams came to Latvia on their way to Scandinavia. The museums in Moscow, Stockholm and Tallinn holds much more Dirhams than Eastern European museums. On the island of Gotland 40 000 Dirhams has  been found. In Latvia there has been 2 343 Dirhams located. Only 24 exemplars of Byzantine Empire currency silver miliaries were found in Latvia.

In 10th century first Western European coins arrived on Latvian land. Silver Denars from Germany, Denmark, Moravia and Hungary. In Western Europe main silver mines were located in Germany and England.  There were many types of coins because the rights of coin forging were for not only Kaisers, but also for dukes, counts and bishops. At 11th century the monetary crisis again made “no coin” period in Latvia. The main currency was silver bars. At this time the most deposits were found.

At 13 century when the age of Crusades emerged the new power re-established coins in Latvia. The new Livonian Confederation issued a Gotlandic currency the Marc of Riga (marca Rigensis).  From the middle of the 13th century the main coins were one-sided Pheninngs. On coins were depicted the keys of Riga and crossed swords.

Because of the inner political crisis in 14 century the coin forging was temporally stopped.  When restarted the new currency was Lübeck Pfennigs. Lübeck was the center of the Hanseatic League, and Livonian cities were part of it. In 1422-1426 monetary reform came into effect and Livonian Monetary Union started its work.

Currencies in Livonia were many. 1 Marc was 4 Verdins or 36. Shillings. Sometimes in Livonia silver Dalders and golden Ducats.


Phening issued by Bishop Albert

The monetary freedom of Livonia were canceled after the fall of Livonian Confederation. New powers, Poles, Swedes and Russians issued new currencies. It will be discused in future.

Selected Sources

Ducmane, Kristīne. (2004). Nauda : enciklopēdija par savu un svešu naudu Latvijā no seniem laikiem līdz mūsdienām. Riga : Zvaigzne ABC.

Ducmane, Kristīne and Veciņš, Ēvalds.(1995) Nauda Latvijā. Riga. Latvijas Banka.

Paiders, Juris. (2002)  Arābu laiki Latvijā. Riga. Zvaigzne ABC.

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