Tag Archives: medieval battles

The Livonian War

Narva attacked by Russians in 1558.

15-16 century was a time of great change in Europe in both political and social fields. Feudal ways of ruling nations changed. Strong European countries became centralized with strong royal administration and armies became more powerful.  Once weak feudal nations slowly became empires. At this time the nation that was unable to make significant changes became prey to other much stronger nations.

Livonia had strong neighbors- Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was largest country in Europe spanning from the Baltic sea to the Black Sea. Sweden started to gain ambitions to control the Baltic Sea. Denmark also rivalled for mastery in the Baltic. However even stronger and dangerous enemy was tempting to get Baltic region. It was Russia. In 8-9 century Kievan Rus was the first form of the Russian Empire, but it broke in many weak duchies. Duchies such as Pskov, Polotsk and Novgorod often tried to interfere Baltic region by attacking local tribes and forcing to pay fees for them. But they were too weak to conquer the Baltic peoples. When German Crusaders took Baltic lands by force, Russians were unable to do anything about it. Another weakening factor was Mongol invasion- in 13th century Mongolian Hordes destroyed Russian cities and imposed so-called Mongol-Tatar yoke.  Kiev fell in direct Mongolian rule, while Novgorod was more independent but still fed up with Mongols.  The Mongols created a country called the Golden Horde with Sarai as capital. Mongols controlled Russian Duchies with use of fees and taxes and tried not to make them too strong. However because of inner conflicts within the Horde the yoke got weaker. In 1380 the forces of Moscow defeated the Mongol army at the Battle of Kulikovo. This great battle however was more a result of an inner Mongol power struggle than effort of Russian liberation. Mongol power stayed and in 1382 the Mongols revenged by burning Moscow. But Mongols were crushed by Mongolian ruler Timur (Tamerlan) from Samarkand who destroyed Sarai but spared Moscow. In 1480 Moscow destroyed Mongol army at the Battle at River Ugra and no longer saw them as their senior rulers. Mongol yoke ended and Moscow became a prime duchy in Russia. The Russians learned many things from Mongols, such as brutal ways of ruling and the lack of justice.  Grand Duke of Ivan III captured Novgorod and Pskov. When 1455 Constantinople the center of the Orthodox Church was taken by the Ottomans, Ivan III declared that Moscow has become a Third Rome- the center of Eastern Christianity and heir of Roman Empire. That was beginning of the Russian imperialism.

Czar of All Russia Ivan IV the Terrible

Heir of Ivan III was Vasily III. In 1530 Ivan his son was born. In 1533 Vasily III was dead. Ivan IV was crowned as Czar of all Russia. Since he was child first years of his rule the power was managed by boyars. Ivan IV reached his prominence when he led the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.   Both cities were owned by the Mongols and that was the end of Mongol influence in Russia.

After the fall of Kazan Ivan IV took his eyes on Livonia. Ivan IV wanted free port to the west and connect trade routes from the Baltic to Caspian Sea. Only Russian port on the Baltic Sea was Ivangorod right next to Narva, but it was too small and shallow. Russia required Livonia to pay taxes for Dorpat (Tartu) to keep peace. But in 1557 Livonians could not pay money to Ivan IV triggering his anger. Russia at first could not invade Livonia because relations with Poland-Lithuania were not secured. But in 1557 Kazan was captured and Russian army got large reinforcements from local Tatar tribes. Livonia still was not paying the money. Before that Russians managed to defeat Han of Crimea and stop Sweden. Grip on Livonia was getting stronger and Livonian cities asked for Polish help. In 1557 Livonia signed anti-Russian alliance with Poland-Lithuania and Order was under Polish protection. Russia saw this as a threat to its security and in 1558 declared war on Livonia.

Livonia was invaded by Russian forces and large groups of Tatar Hordes. Narva surrendered to Russia first, next was Dorpat. Sweden, Poland-Lithuania tried to force Russians leave Livonia, but without any luck. Russians pillaged Livonia killed civilians and in 1559 the Livonian Order gave up their independence to Poland-Lithuania. Order became part of the Polish army and their lands were given to them. Ivan IV tried to persuade Poland-Lithuania to join war against Muslim rulers of Crimea, but Lithuania disproved such proposal and helped the Han of Crimea. In 1560  August 2 Russians completely destroyed the Livonian army at the Battle of Ergeme. In same time Ivan IV started repressions against its aides.  On August 7 Ivan IV lost his beloved wife Anastasia. It was a great tragedy for Ivan and probably caused mental breakdown. Some say that Ivan IV turned evil after this and deserved his nickname ‘Terrible’. Ivan married again many times and most of his future wife’s were killed by his orders.

Atrocities of Russian army in Livonia

During the next years’ wars with brief cease-fire continued. Russia confronted Poland and Sweden and was unable to win. In Moscow Ivan IV continued bloody repressions accompanied by orgies and heavy drinking. In 1563 Russians captured Lithuanian controlled Polotsk.

The war started to shift against Russia when Crimean Tatars won many victories in 1579. They even devastated Moscow. Meanwhile after death of Polish king Sigismund Augustus throne was taken by energetic Stepfan Batory who started many successful attacks against Russia. He recaptured Polotsk and head deep into the Russian land almost threatening Ivan’s IV safety.   Sweden chased away Russians from Estonian part of Livonia. In 1581 Swedish mercenary forces captured Narva making heavy blow to Ivan IV. In November 1581 Ivan did heavy blow for himself by killing his son Ivan in spike of anger. Ivan IV now lost his heir. His remaining son Feodor was sick with Down syndrome and unable to rule. This was end of Rurikovich dynasty. Next year Russia made peace deal with Poland-Lithuania and Sweden.

Livonian Confederation ceased to exist. Northern Livonia with Reval (Tallin) and Narve was given to Sweden. Rest of Livonia was given to Poland-Lithuania. The New Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was established, its Duke was the last Master of the Livonian Order Gotthard Kettler. It was an autonomous nation with Jelgava as a capitol. Rest of Latvia was under direct jurisdiction of Poland. Riga tried to resist and was independent for many years but was captured by the Poles.

Russia lost in her first attempt to get way to the west. After Ivan IV death Russia felled in civil war together with Polish invasion.  Peace in the Baltic was kept until 1600 when Sweden and Poland-Lithuania started wars for Latvian territory.  It was Czar Peter I who again tried to “carve a window to Europe” and succeed in 1721 realizing an Ivan’s dream.

Livonia after Livonian war

Selected Sources

Madariaga, Isabel de. (2005) Ivan the Terrible: First Tsar of Russia. New York. Yale University Press.

Klišāns, Valdis. (1992) Livonija 13.-16. gs. pirmajā pusē : mācību līdzeklis. Riga: Latvijas Universitāte

 

Advertisements

Comments Off on The Livonian War

Filed under Historical Articles

Wolter von Plettenberg

Wolter von Plettenberg bust at his grave site at Cesis

At 16th century the era of knights and crusader orders had come to an end. In most parts of Europe new age reforms were taken putting an end to importance of chivalry. England and France became centralized states and Teutonic Order became a secular Prussian state. The Grand Duchy of Moscow was heading to become a unified Russian state. At this time Livonia was still decentralized confederation ruled by Order and church, unable to unify. Unable to make reforms Livonian Confederation was prone to be conquered by the superior neighbor state.

At this time Livonia required a strong leader to save it from its own fate. This could be Wolter von Plettenberg the last powerful Master of Livonian Order. He had power in his hands to make changes, but in the end he only made life of Livonia only a little longer.

We don’t know the exact birth year of Plettenberg, but he was born in Westphalia Germany near the town of Plettenberg. His parents were local landlords. Because some of his relatives were already in Livonian order like landmarchall Gedert Plettenberg, Wolter joined the ranks of order in 1460′s in youth times.

In the first years of his career he was at the castle of Narve, Estonia, Aizkraukle and Aluksne. At 1481 he was finance and production administrator at the Castle of Riga. At 1482-1488 he was fogt of Rezekne and resided in Rezekne castle.

In 1489 he was elected landmarchal – the commander of armed forces and Masters adviser. His first military victory was against revolting Riga in 1491. Riga again tried to break free from Orders influence and broke the treaty of Salaspils signed in 1452 which made Riga under jurisdiction of the Order and Archbishop. He defeated the Riga’s armed forces at the battle of Bukulti and restored the power of Order. This made him very powerful among the ranks of Order and 1494 without a doubt he was elected as the Master of Order.

His main field of foreign affairs was Russia. Grand Duke of Moscow Ivan III annexed Novgorod, the strategic partner of the western world. He closed all trade offices in Novgorod and held captive western traders. This was a clear danger for Livonia as Ivan III made no secret that he wants to be ruler of whole Russia. He who was first called himself Czar- Emperor. Plettenberg sent 7 diplomatic delegations to Moscow and at the end 45 of 49 western officials were returned home. But the war was still imminent.

Knowing this Plettenberg tried to acquire allies against Moscow. He tried German Kaiser, Denmark but made an alliance with Lithuania. In 1501 he crossed the Livonian border for a preventive strike since Russians dissembled their forces near Pskov. Lithuanians did not send any help and Plettenberg acted on his own. He defeated the Russians and left the Russian border.  Russians strike back and entered Livonia and head to Cesis meeting no resistance. They pillaged Vidzeme and left. Plettenberg prepared to attack Russia next year.

In 1502 Plettenberg attacked Pskov. He pillaged its outskirts and siege the main town. He asked the defenders to surrender, but they waited for reinforcements and declined the surrender. When they came both sides met at the Battle of Smolin.

The order had cavalry commanded by Archbishop and landmarchal Micheal Hildebrand along with Latvian and Estonian foot soldiers.  About 5000 men.  Russians had forces from Pskov, Novgord, Moscow and Tatar allied forces. Order won the battle and left 2500 men dead. The Chronicle of Baltasar Rusov tells that Plettenberg lost only 400 men. After Lithuanian army again did not come, Plettenberg left Russia.

The battle was an important victory for the Order since Russians now hesitated to attack Livonia again until 1558. Numerous extensions of peace period showed that Russians respected the Order. However Russian historians try wash away the grunge of Smolin defeat (Russians never admit their defeat) by making it look like a victory since Plettenberg retreated after battle.

After setting things with Russia, Plettenberg was hit by a wave of the Reformation. He did not attempt to stop the spread of Lutheranism. But he kept his Catholic faith and when his Senior ruler the Teutonic Order became a secular state he rejected the possibility to do the same with his order. That may be his biggest mistake since he could make Livonia a centralized kingdom and start serious reforms. He was better off commanding army than being the real king of Livonia. So because of his hesitation Livonia never became a centralized   state.   He died in old age in 1535.  He saved Livonia from early collapse but did not do enough to make it last for steady future. His reigns did nothing significant either and so at 1558 the Livonian Confederation met serious nemesis- Czar Ivan IV the Terrible. But that is another story.

Selected Sources

Angerman, Norbert and Misāns, Ilgvars. (2001) Wolter von Plettenberg und das mittelalterliche Livland. Lüneburg : Verl. Nordostdeutsches Kulturwerk

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

Klišāns, Valdis. (1992) Livonija 13.-16. gs. pirmajā pusē : mācību līdzeklis. Riga: Latvijas Universitāte

Comments Off on Wolter von Plettenberg

Filed under Historical Articles

The Medieval Riga

Rigas zimog 1226

The Seal of Riga in 1226

Riga was founded in 1201 when Bishop Albert settled there. Before him there were native villages inhabited by Livonians and Latgallians. And there was a settlement of the German Merchants who chose this place as their trading base. Bishop Albert chose this site as the base of operations for his Crusader campaign. Riga had a crucial role in the Crusades. From Riga Crusader armies marched at all directions in Latvian lands, conquering Courland, Semigallia, Latgallia, Selonia and Vidzeme. Native armies tried to capture the strong-point, but all failed and Riga withstood as the main Crusader capitol. Since then Riga located at middle of Latvia has become as the main center of Latvia. It’s been called the “water-head”” of Latvia since Riga has all services for workers, and all national administration is located there. Other smaller towns except Daugavpils or Liepaja could not offer what Riga has, so in the past decades Riga has been inhabited in large masses by country people.

The beginnings of Riga where at the right side of the river Daugava, where distributary of Riga Speķupe (The Ham River), blocked at Kube hills took the circle to Daugava. This distributary was called Riga or Rīdziņa. Near the entry in river Daugava, river Riga made extension called the Lake of Riga. There was the first port of Riga. Another distributary of Daugava near Riga is Sarkandaugava (Red Daugava), or the Punishment Ditch.

Near Riga there are three big entries of rivers Daugava, Lielupe and Gauja. Near Riga there are some large lakes like lake of Babīte, lake Ķīšezers, lake of Jugla.

During the springtime floods Riga was endangered, because the entry of river Daugava was full of sand reefs and Riga was located at just 4 meters above the sea level.  Many disastrous floods had been recorded in 1363, 1562, 1578 and 1590. In 16 century river Daugava changed its entry in Vecāķi but then in 17th century it broke the dune walls and found the straightest way to sea. River Riga also had trouble; it slowly became contaminated by city garbage and the buildings of dams in order to prevent floods which closed the water flow from Speķupe to river Riga. Because of the wall building river Riga was completely closed from Speķupe and became as standing water reservoir.  Since it was polluted it was levelled in 18.-19 century and today where river Riga once flow there is streets and buildings.

Based on this all Riga had ideal position for trade, administration and it was the main key of the Baltic Region. It never lost its strategic importance at all times.

First years of Riga were turbulent for it was many times attacked by native forces. Most dangerous were attacked by Curonians from the sea in 1210.  But all attacks were repulsed and Riga was the main base of operations for the Crusaders. In 1221 Riga was almost taken by the Danes when Bishop Albert was forced to become vassal of Danish King Waldemar II. But that was met by heavy resistance from local citizens who did not allow Danish kings envoy Gotshalk to enter Riga. But in 1223 Waldemar II was held captive by vassal and Denmark lost its concessions in Baltic lands.

After that the main civil government of Riga became the Town Council or rāte. The town Council consisted of 12 consuls or Town Councilors, later the number added to the 20 Town Councilors. Town Council existed until 19 century eighties when it was reformed by the Russian Imperial Administration.   Town Council was elected by Town Assembly, but in 13 century the Town Council elected themselves and Town Assembly was used for decorative purposes.   The four main Town Councilors where Burgomasters one of them where Higher Burgomaster who run the Town Council. He was something like Major of Riga these days.

The town Council managed all aspects of Riga, the ruling, organizing, and justice as well as commanding of the armed forces. In 1226 Riga got first Coat of Arms. Walls, gates and two towers symbolized the stability of the city, but keys of St. Peter meant that the town is in the protection of Curry of Rome, and Cross in the middle showed that the town is under the Bishop’s official rule. Coat of Arms changed many times due to the changing powers that ruled the town.

Town Council had a constant struggle with two seniors the Bishop and the Order.  Bishop and Order were in struggle themselves too, the war between then affected Riga. In 1297 the constant tension evolved into full scale conflict- it started as a dispute over a bridge over Daugava, which were made to build dams. Order demolished the bridge to let some of their ships pass. This caused the conflict which made half of Riga burn to ashes and Order’s castle was captured by locals. The castle was destroyed, but the Order was far from giving up. Order prevented the counter coalition of Bishoprics of Riga, Dorpat and Ōsel-Weik capturing Archbishop of   Riga and started the blockade of Riga. Riga was forced to sign alliance with pagan Lithuania. First alliance was successful; the castle near Cesis the Windmill of Bethold was destroyed. But then near Bukulti Order received reinforcements from Prussia and crushed the Riga-Lithuanian army. At the end the Hanseatic League forced to sign a peace agreement. The consensus was acquired by the Archbishop of Lund on 1304 March 21. The order must have its lost possessions back, the wall must be built to separate Order’s castle and Riga, the Order could not make new fortifications, the town could build the bridge over river Riga, but cannot disrupt the Order’s sea vessel movement, and both sides must not disrupt each others trading. Order bought the Daugavgriva monastery and turned into a fortress. That was vital gain for the Order.

Order gained victory, but did bother to note peace terms. They confiscated Riga trade ships and attacked the traders. Riga tried to gain Lithuanian help, complained to Rome, but nothing worked. The war erupted again in 1316 and the fortress of Daugavgriva was under siege.   But Order outmatched again by paying large sums of money to the Pope and Daugavgriva was declared as “eternal possession of Order”. In 1328 war again gained its height as the Daugavgriva was attacked again.  Lithuania was asked for help and they came, but Order captured the four Archbishops castles in advance and gained support from Prussia. In 1329  the siege of Riga had begun. It lasted a half of the year. 1330 March 20 Riga was forced to surrender. To humiliate the defenders of Riga, they were ordered to cut a hole into the city wall so the knights of the Order can go through there besides the main gate. Now Order had gained full control of Riga and the city became the town of Order. The Coat of Arms changed adding Crusaders Cross and Lion into gate of Riga.

Rigas_gerb_RDkrusteja

The Seal of Riga after victory of Livonian Order

Riga grew rapidly despite the wars. The stories of most significant Medieval foundations in Riga will follow in future posts.

Selected Sources

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

Šterns, Indriķis. (1997) Latvijas vēsture, 1290-1500. Riga: Daugava

Comments Off on The Medieval Riga

Filed under Historical Articles

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania

The Coat of Arms of Grand Duchy of Lithuania

The Crusades in Latvian land ended in Crusader win and Early Latvian enslavement. Same thing happened to Estonians, but closest Latvian nation the Lithuania could withstand the Crusader attack and form a unified country which was  one of the largest European nations for many decades. The phenomenon of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy which was at  its height 10 times larger than present day Lithuanian country is still not completely explained even by Lithuanians themselves.

In 12-13 century the political processes in Lithuania was not interrupted by foreign forces. That was for geographical  reasons, for Lithuania was more inland based than Latvia or Estonia. The Germans from the west was blockaded by Prussia and Poland and Russians from the east was busy dealing with Mongol rulers. The social differentiation between Lithuanian tribes was deepening; one became a warrior or a farmer, another got the rights of the ruling. In the place of Elders  the leader place was taken kunigaikštis the high nobles who got their seats inherited so they became kings a formed their dynasties. The high organization of Lithuanian military led to many raids in neighboring lands which were so deadly that made Lithuanians a feared threat. In previous posts about the Crusades in Latvian land the Lithuanian attacks were mentioned many times. They could even reach the outskirts of Karelia.

The high civil organization and military strength led to the unification of various Lithuanian and Samogotian regions, they were ruled by  kunigaikštis. At the 13th century thirties and forties the one of kunigaikštis Mindaugas emerged as sole ruler of all Lithuanian and Samogotian lands. He did this by using force and guile assassinating his enemies and started to rule Lithuania by himself.

Lithuanian country met his first crisis in 1248 when the conflict emerged between Mindaugas and his relatives. Against Mindaugas also joined forces the Duke of Galicia and Volinia Danil Romanovich and many others. However Mindaugas managed to split his enemy ranks; he baptized in 1251 and in 1253 he was recognized by the Pope as the King of Lithuania. Lithuania was officially recognized as a rightful Catholic European kingdom and was removed from the Crusader hit list. But the resistance to Mindaugas remained strong, the baptizing made a heavy disappointment in Samogitans. Samogotia was ceded to the Crusaders by Mindaugas, but Samogotians upraised and in 1258 they defeated the Order at Skoda and in 1260  at Durbe. This made Mindaugas restart his war against the Crusaders and in 1261 he again became Pagan canceling his baptizing. Finlay in 1263 Mindaugas was assassinated by conspirators and Christianity was frowned upon.  Mindaugas today is considered as the symbol of Lithuanian nation and one of the main Lithuanian historic personalities. He was a tyrant and powermonger but his achievements was groundbreaking for Lithuanians.

Sculpture of the King Mindaugas

Sculpture of the King Mindaugas

After his death his heirs Treniota, Mindaugas sister son (1263.-1264), Vaišvilka (1264.-1267)- Mindaugas son, The son of Danil Romanovich Duke Shvarn (1267-1269). The power struggle made crisis and endangered Lithuania for could became part of Crusaders or Duchy of Galicia and Volinia. The crisis was brought to an end by Grand Duke Traidenis (1267-1282). He unified the tribes, defeated the Volonians and Crusaders and expanded the Lithuania even further.

At the end of 13th century Lithuania was ruled by Gediminian dynasty. Crusaders attacked Lithuania every year reaching the outskirts of Vilnius. Lithuanians fortified their positions and gathered their forces and the war against the Crusaders lasted all 14th century. Not only German knights came to Lithuania, even from France and Spain the volunteer knights traveled to bring Christianity back to Lithuania. To weaken enemy the Grand Duke Gediminas took part in the civil war between Livonian Order and Riga Town Council and Archbishop, he supported Riga for Riga was only trade partner for Lithuania.  Lithuania tried to reach the end of the Crusades by trying to baptize again amid strong Pagan opposition. In the mean time Lithuanians expanded their territory to the east. Since the Russians were weakened by the Mongols and Mongols were weakened themselves, Lithuanians at the reign of Algirdas took the Duchies of Polotsk, Smolensk, Vitebsk, and Kiev under their rule. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania sized 800 000 square kilometers and reached to the shores of the Black Sea.

But the giant kingdom was endangered bitterly by Crusaders and Duchy of Moscow. Algirdas tried to capture Moscow three times but never succeeded. After his death in 1377 the conflict between his heirs Kęstutis, Vytautas and Jogaila emerged. Kęstutis, Vytautas was of the old Pagan elite but Jogaila was from new generation. Jogaila killed Kęstutis and exiled Vytautas and took all power to himself. He was convinced that Lithuania must baptize again to secure peace. In 1358 the Krėva agreement was signed between Poland and Lithuania and in 1386 when Jogaila married Polish princess Jadviga he became the king of Poland as king Vladislav I, remained as Grand Duke of Lithuania. He tried to use Poles in governing of Lithuania, this was resisted by Lithuanian elite and Vytautas who used the support of Russian boyars and the Crusaders.  In 1392 Vytautas regained the throne of Lithuania from Jogaila.

Vytautas kept Lithuania as Catholic country, but Teutonic Crusaders still attacked Lithuania. In 1410  February 15 the Order was annihilated in Battle of Grunwald one of the largest battles of Medieval war history. But the Lithuanians did not use the opportunity to Crush the Order completely in 1411 at Toruń a peace was signed. But in 1422 the Order tried to attack again but were forced to sign peace once and for all. The Crusader aggression was finally halted.  Vytautas could even capture Novgorod and Moscow and claim the throne of Moravia during the Hussite Wars.

After the death Vytautas political struggle again took place. Jogaila again claimed the throne of Lithuania. He passed the throne to Švitrigaila, but this was resisted by Polish elite and civil war broke out. Švitrigaila was deposed by Sigismund the brother of Vytautas. He defeated Švitrigaila and Livonian Order forces, but was killed by conspirators in 1440. Boyar’s crowned the thirteen year old Jogaila’s son Kazimir as king of Lithuania. In 1447 he became king of Poland also making the personal – union between Poland and Lithuania. Until Kazimir reached adulthood the power was concentrated between  Boyar oligarchs.  Boyars were Lithuanian, Belorussian, Russian and Polish noble elite who fought for equal rights in their ranks. It’s axiomatic that if the country lacks strong ruler then the country is ruled by oligarchy and is weakened because of their inner fights. Boyars started to gain more power,  Radziwiłł family was strongest Boyar dynasty.

In the 16th century the Grand Duchy of Moscow started to take Lithuanian lands. Smolensk was lost, but further advance on Moscow was halted because the Russian population of Lithuania remained loyal. But even more problems came from Poland; both countries were ruled by same dynasty rulers and both societies of two states came even closer. Poles wanted the vast lands of Lithuania for they were good for colonization.  In 16th century Lithuania was de facto united with Poland and boyars was for full unification.

This finally happened in 1569 July 1 The Union of Lublin took place. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth or Rzeczpospolita was formed. The full independence of Lithuania came to an end. In next decades the Poles took most power in states manners. But the union was necessary for Lithuanian survival because the danger of Russia was growing and Lithuania needed the Polish help to fight Russian advance. The union lasted until 1795 when it was annexed by Russia, Prussia and Austria.

Seleted Sources:

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

Plakans, Andrejs. (2011) A concise history of the Baltic States. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press


Comments Off on The Grand Duchy of Lithuania

Filed under Historical Articles

The Last Resistance of Semigallians

As said earlier the divided Early Latvian tribes could not form a united resistance against Crusader aggression.   The battle of Saule benefited Lithuanians more than Semigallians or Curonians. The victory of Alexander Nevsky was more vital for Russians. Those failures did not prevent the Livonian Order from continuing the conquer of Semigallia. Since neither Lithuanians nor Russians showed any sympathy for besieged Latvian tribes they were left on their own facing the Crusaders.

At 1271 The Master of Livonian Order Walter from Nordeck felt himself ready to fight the Semigallians once and for all. The all three sides- the Order, The Archbishop of Riga and Town Council of Riga made a deal and passed the ownership of Semigallian land to the Order. In 1271 the Order came to siege the fortress of Tērvete. The fortress was captured, the main source- Livonian Rhymed Chronicle (Livländische Reimchronik) (The Chronicle of Henry ends at 1227) does not give any detailed description of the capture of the fortress.

Next year Walter took his army to Mežotne. It was lost by Crusaders because of failure in the battle of Durbe in 1260. Now the castle surrendered without a fight. In the same year the Crusaders captured the castle of Rakte, this time with resistance. This was the end of Semigallian freedom, they were forced to baptize. Semigallia now formally belonged to the Crusaders. But in 1279 the Lithuanians attacked Crusaders and defeated them, killing 70 knights and Master Ernest from Racenburg. The battle took place near Aizkraukle.

Again the Semigallians rebelled and gave up the Christian religion. This was the time when the Semigallian ruler Namejs or Nameisis came in. He organized an attack to recapture Tērvete. The Chronicles do not give any details about Namejs past and how he became a leader of the Semigallians. Crusaders first trusted Namejs believing he was on their side, but when he came to attack they were bitterly surprised.  Tērvete was captured and Crusaders were enslaved and killed.

Namejs

Next  battles took over Dobele. Crusaders came from Kuldīga. Dobelians pushed back the attackers and Namejs helped them, but eventually Dobele was captured by the Crusaders. Angered by the Crusader attack Namejs decided to revenge; he planned to attack Riga and started to assemble his army. This was learned by Crusaders in Jelgava and they assembled at the gates of Riga. With them the Riga was protected by knights of Cesis and Latgalians who used the red flag with white stripe. This was the first documented sighting of the future flag of Republic of Latvia.

When Namejs approached Riga he noticed the gathering formations of Crusaders and decided retreat since the advantage of surprise was  lost. The Crusaders decided to chase Namejs; it was winter and Semigallians crossed the frozen river of Lielupe and their horseman’s collapsed into an icy river, they escaped death, but bounty hungry Crusaders wanted to save the sinking horses for war bounty. Namejs used this and attacked them killing and capturing many of them.

During the 1280-1281  Crusaders tried to attack and in 1281 finally they acquired a large strong force and forced  Namejs to burn his own castle at Tervete and surrender. Namejs did not want to live under Crusader rule and with his Lithuanian comrade Traidenis he left his home left his homeland to Lithuania. There he spent his days fighting the Teutonic Order in Prussia and died there. Namejs was one of the best Early Latvian fighters against German Crusader invasion, but he came too late and there were not too many people who could be like him. Today many Latvian men including me were a silver ring called after Namejs. It symbolizes the boys going into manhood. It’s one of the popular Latvian man jewellery piece and Namejs as a name is also favored among Latvians. Namejs was the Latvian Alexander Nevsky. He fought hard and died on the battlefield against his bitter enemy.

The ring of Namejs

However the Semigallians did not give up their fight, in 1287 they approached Riga, but could not go through the stone gates. After this 12 days earlier Crusaders gathered to punish Semigallians at 26 March 1287 Semigallians surrounded Crusaders and destroyed them. The Master of Order Willekin was killed. The new Master Cuno from Hacingstein again gathered force and finally crushed the Semigallian resistance. In 1290 the last Semigallian strong point the Sidrabene was captured. Semigallians was forced to baptize again, many of them leave their land and exiled to Lithuania.   The Crusades in Latvian land ended with the German Crusader victory. Early Latvians and Livonians on the next course of centuries became peasants of German vassals losing their rights and freedom. The long 700 year period of German presence in Latvia left its marks in Latvian history. Nationalists call 12-19 century the “700 years of slavery” when the Latvian nation was enslaved by elite German colonists. It was not that horribly simple to give such name for such long period, but truly the German presence in Latvia was omnipresent and were responsible for making the Latvian nation to what it is today. Germans lived in Latvia until 1939 when Hitler ordered them to return to the Fatherland. Latvians owe many good and bad from Germans and without their presence the Latvian nation would a lot different.

Selected sources:

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

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

Comments Off on The Last Resistance of Semigallians

Filed under Historical Articles

The Legend of Alexander Nevsky

Alexander Nevsky

Alexander Nevsky

800px-Nicholas_Roerich,_Guests_from_Overseas

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.

Comments Off on The Legend of Alexander Nevsky

Filed under Historical Articles

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.


Comments Off on The Livonian Order

Filed under Historical Articles