Post-classical history


Although the German contribution to the First Crusade (1096-1099) was insignificant, German knights and German rulers, from King Conrad III in the Second Crusade (1147-1149) to Emperor Frederick II in 1228, made major commitments to campaigns for the defense and recovery of the Holy Land. The year 1147 also saw the first papal recognition of the crusade against the pagan Slavs to the east of the river Elbe, whereas campaigns against the pagan Baltic and Finno-Ugrian peoples in the lands to the south and east of the Baltic Sea became a major focus of crusading warfare between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.

In the following account, “German” and “Germany” refer essentially to the medieval German-speaking lands, roughly coextensive with modern-day Germany, Austria, and German-speaking Switzerland. The medieval kingdom of Germany also included lands that were not (or not exclusively) German-speaking: to the west, the counties of Holland, Brabant, and Hainaut and the duchies of Lower and Upper Lotharingia; to the east, the kingdom of Bohemia and the margraviate of Moravia. Many of the kings of Germany were crowned as Holy Roman Emperors and thus also exercised authority in the other two kingdoms regarded as making up the Holy Roman (also Western or German) Empire: the kingdom of Burgundy (parts of modern southeastern France, northwestern Italy, and western Switzerland) and the medieval kingdom of Italy (Lombardy, Veneto, and Tuscany). From 1194, the Staufen emperors Henry VI and Frederick II also ruled the kingdom of Sicily, which included the southern half of mainland Italy.

The First and Second Crusades (1095-1149)

The early medieval Western Empire inherited from Car- olingian times a tradition of imperial holy war against the non-Christian peoples of western and central Europe, exemplified in Charlemagne’s campaigns of conquest and conversion against Muslims in Spain and against the pagan Saxons. In their later medieval manifestations, the Spanish Reconquista and the crusade against heathen Slavs, these older forms of holy war became absorbed into the wider ambit of crusading. The ancient association of Christian Empire and warfare sanctioned by the church is invoked in one contemporary version of Pope Urban II’s sermon at the Council of Clermont in 1095, which reports him citing Charlemagne as a prototype crusader.

Germany shared with France other preconditions of the emergence of the idea of crusade in the eleventh century. Both had undergone a similar militarization of feudal society and had dominant warrior elites. Monastic reform in Germany followed the example of Cluny, and it was Emperor Henry III who at the Synod of Sutri in 1046 initiated the reform of the papacy that led to the church’s efforts to control feudal violence, the motive for the Council of Clermont. The Truce of God that Pope Urban proclaimed in his sermon had parallels in Germany, notably the Cologne truce of 1083. The deeper penetration of lay piety among the feudal warrior caste in France and Germany, which encouraged the practice of pilgrimage and helped give the Holy Land and Jerusalem their strong appeal to crusaders, was evident in both countries, as in the major pilgrimages of Duke Robert I of Normandy in 1035 and of Bishop Gunther of Bamberg in 1064-1065.

Germany did not respond to the crusading appeal in 1095 with the same fervor as France because it was in the grip of the Investiture Contest, the conflict between Emperor Henry IV and the papacy over the powers of ecclesiastical and lay rulers. No German bishops attended the Council of Clermont, and the crusade was not preached officially or systematically in Germany; the chronicler Ekkehard of Aura explains that this was “because of the schism between royal and priestly authority which . . . has made us hated by the Romans and them by us” [Ekkehard of Aura, “Chronicon universale,” in Frutolfs und Ekkehards Chroniken und die anonyme Kaiserchronik, ed. Franz-Josef Schmale and Irene Schmale-Ott (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchge- sellschaft, 1972), p. 140]. However, the large army of Godfrey of Bouillon marched across Germany along the land route to Byzantium, and though it contained relatively few German knights, Godfrey himself was a vassal of the emperor as duke of Lower Lotharingia, and a large part of his force came from the northwestern marches of the empire, where French and German linguistic and political identities merged. The chronicler Albert of Aachen also shows particular interest in German participation. But the bulk of German participants in the First Crusade, warriors and noncombatants alike, appear to have joined the two cohorts of the “People’s Crusades” led by the priest Gottschalk and Count Emicho of Flonheim, almost all of whom perished before they even reached the borders of the Byzantine Empire. The purported participation of large contingents of nobles and clerics from Swabia and the Rhineland, as claimed in the sixteenth-century Chronicle of Zimmern, is an invention of its compiler, Count Froben Christoph of Zimmern (d. 1566).

Contingents of German knights are recorded in expeditions of 1098 (the so-called third wave of the First Crusade) and 1101, and early awareness of one key development in the Holy Land is documented by Emperor Lothar III’s gift of property to the Hospitallers in 1130. Yet the most remarkable testimony to German reception of the crusading idea in the aftermath of the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 is the appeal of Archbishop Adelgot of Magdeburg and east Saxon clerical and lay leaders, addressed to the churches and lay nobility of northern Germany, Lotharingia, and Flanders, to imitate the deeds of the French, who had liberated Jerusalem, and to “hasten to join the war of Christ and assist the warriors of Christ” in the defense of “our Jerusalem,” the missionary church in the heathen Slav territory beyond the Elbe [Urkun- den und erzühlende Quellen zur deutschen Ostsiedlung im Mit- telalter, ed. Herbert Helbig and Lorenz Weinrich (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1975), pp. 100-101]. The transferral in this text of the idiom and imagery of crusade sermons and chronicles to religious war on the eastern marches of the empire foreshadows aspects of the first full engagement of Germany with the crusade in 1145-1148.

In response to the fall of the city of Edessa (mod. Şanlıurfa, Turkey) to Zangi in 1144, King Louis VII of France conceived a military expedition to support the Frankish states of Outremer. To preserve papal control of crusading initiatives, Pope Eugenius III and Abbot Bernard of Clair- vaux launched a general appeal in France. When the crusade was preached without their authorization in Germany, precipitating pogroms against Jews, Eugenius and Bernard were compelled to enlist King Conrad III, who took the cross at Christmas 1146. By March 1147, the Saxon nobles were demanding the church’s permission to fulfill their vows by campaigning against the Slavs (known to contemporaries as Wends) who populated the regions east of the river Elbe. At the same time, King Alfonso VII of Castile requested crusading privileges for a campaign against the Moors in Spain. Bernard and Eugenius were compelled to accept the principle of a crusade that did not have the Holy Land as its goal, so that the Second Crusade became a general Christian offensive in three theaters of holy war, in which all participants fought under the sign of the cross and were regarded as detachments of a single host.

In the East, both French and German armies suffered defeats and setbacks before they joined forces at Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel). Together with an army led by King Baldwin III, they launched an assault on Damascus in July 1148. Repulsed by the defenders of the city, the crusaders were forced by lack of water and strong counterattacks to abandon the siege. The Saxon campaign was equally futile. Attacks on Dobin, Demmin, and Stettin ended in truces with their Slav defenders. Only in Spain were significant gains achieved, with the capture of Lisbon, Faro, Almeria, and Tortosa by the Iberian kings, with the support of crusaders from northern Europe and Genoa. Although the fiasco in the Holy Land caused widespread consternation in Europe, it did not inhibit the subsequent growth of enthusiasm for the idea of crusade in Germany. This was fueled by the two highly significant innovations of the Second Crusade: the enlistment of kings as sponsors and military leaders, and the extension of the sanction and spiritual rewards of crusade to warfare against the heathen Slavs on the northeastern marches of Germany. Although it was to be forty years before the next major crusade was launched in 1188, the impact of these new dimensions of crusading is apparent in the meantime, both on the level of high politics and in the reception and depiction of crusade in vernacular literature.

The Crusades of Frederick I Barbarossa and Henry VI (1189-1198)

Already in the 1150s, the Kaiserchronik, a verse chronicle of Roman and German emperors, inserts into its biography of Henry IV an account of the First Crusade, in which Godfrey of Bouillon is presented as the instigator of the crusade, without papal involvement, and as its sole military leader, acting seemingly as a surrogate emperor in place of the disqualified Henry. The chronicle breaks off in mid-sentence as the writer describes Conrad III’s departure on the Second Crusade. Around 1170, at the court of Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony, the priest Conrad adapted the Old French Chanson de Roland into Middle High German. Charlemagne’s campaign in Spain is transformed into a formal crusade, with sermons and indulgences, but summoned and led by the emperor without papal sanction. The chivalric heroes are motivated by a crusading piety strongly reminiscent of Bernard of Clairvaux’s De laude novae militiae. Conrad’s epilogue extols Henry as crusader, as converter of the heathen, and as the Charlemagne of his age.

This symbiosis of imperial holy war and crusade can be traced in the political and military projects of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa and major German territorial princes through the decades between the Second and Third Crusades. Barbarossa had gone on crusade with Conrad III in 1147-1148. From the beginning of his reign in 1152, the relationship of the German Empire with Byzantium, and hence also the Islamic sphere, was a continuing concern of imperial diplomacy. In 1172 Frederick sent envoys to Saladin, probably in order to strengthen his position in negotiations with Emperor Manuel I Komnenos. Saladin responded by sending his own ambassadors, who proposed a marriage between his son and a daughter of Barbarossa. They spent almost six months accompanying the imperial court on its travels through Germany in 1173-1174. A German diplomatic mission was sent to Egypt and Syria in 1175. An exchange of letters between Frederick and Saladin, preserved in the chronicle Itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta Regis Ricardi, though clearly not authentic, presents the start of the Third Crusade in 1188 as a declaration of war between two empires in ideological confrontation. This echoes the genuine letter to Barbarossa from the papal legate Henry of Albano, which describes the crusade as an obligation laid upon the Christian emperor by God. At the same time, the recruitment of German crusaders drew on vernacular lyrics composed by chivalric poets at the imperial court, which testify to the extent to which the ideals of redemptive knighthood had taken root in courtly culture during the period since 1147.

Statue of Frederick I Barbarossa, Nuremberg. (Studio Patellani/Corbis)

Statue of Frederick I Barbarossa, Nuremberg. (Studio Patellani/Corbis)

The imperial princes, whose transformation of the ancient tribal duchies into territorial lordships was strongly promoted by Frederick I Barbarossa, also showed a continuing interest in crusade. Henry Jasomirgott, margrave and later duke of Austria, who had gone on crusade with King Conrad III, became an active patron of the Hospitallers, securing Barbarossa’s confirmation of the order’s Austrian possessions in 1156. His brother Bishop Otto of Freising, his son Leopold V, and his grandsons dukes Frederick I and Leopold VI all shared the Babenberg dynasty’s commitment to the crusades between 1147 and 1217, surpassing even the record of the landgraves of Thuringia. In the north of Germany, the Welf prince Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony, had taken part in the campaign against the Slavs in 1147 as a very young man. He became a major patron of the Templars and the Cistercians, a connection perhaps attributable to the influence of Bernard of Clairvaux.

The church never revoked its recognition of the Slav wars as crusades, and in 1171 Pope Alexander III confirmed that the war against pagans in northern Europe had exactly the same status as the crusade to the Holy Land. Between the late 1150s and 1170, Henry pursued the colonial expansion of Saxony and the conquest and conversion of the pagan Slavs. His brutality and ruthless self-interest frequently provoked the censure of the church, but by around 1170 the often critical chronicler Helmold of Bosau hails him as a reborn Emperor Otto the Great for his extension of empire and Christendom. The priest Conrad in the epilogue of the Rolandslied dubs Henry the new Charlemagne for his conquest and conversion of the heathen. In 1172 Henry led over 1,000 followers, knights, and clerics, including the converted Abodrite prince Pribislav, on an armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In Byzantium he was treated as an envoy of Barbarossa. Thwarted of the opportunity to lead his army in warfare in the Holy Land, he made lavish donations to the Templars and to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Frederick Barbarossa may have planned a relief expedition to the Holy Land as early as 1184, but the catastrophe of Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem precipitated action in 1187. Frederick, though now sixty-five years old, took the cross and vigorously promoted the crusade. With an army of up to 15,000 men, he set off in May 1189 along “Charle magne’s road” to the East. Encountering hostility from Byzantium, he came close to attacking Constantinople. Only in late March 1190 did the army cross the Hellespont. After difficult progress through Asia Minor, the Germans took Ikonion (mod. Konya, Turkey) on 13 May. On 10 June, while bathing in the river Saleph on a baking hot day, Frederick suffered a fatal heart attack. Many of his followers fled homeward in despair, but his son, Duke Frederick V of Swabia, persevered with the remnant of the army and reached Acre. He, in turn, died there in January 1191. Duke Leopold V of Austria brought German reinforcements by the sea route, but the major roles in the siege of Acre and the forays along the Mediterranean coast, which brought the Third Crusade its meager successes, were played by the French, and, above all, by Richard I’s English and Angevin army.

At the capture of Acre, Leopold V found himself so marginalized in the sharing of booty by Richard I that he departed the Holy Land swearing vengeance on the English king. When shipwreck forced Richard to travel incognito through Austria, Leopold seized him and held him to ransom. Handed over to Emperor Henry VI, Richard was eventually freed. Pope Celestine III excommunicated Leopold and demanded that he, and his son Frederick, undertake a new crusade, to last at least as long as Richard’s captivity. The German Crusade of 1197-1198 was thus, for the large Austrian contingent at least, a penitential pilgrimage. Henry VI, who had succeeded to the kingdom of Sicily through marriage to its heiress, Constance of Hauteville, took a “secret” vow of crusade at Bari on Good Friday 1195. Despite the symbolic timing of his act, his motives were less transparent. The crusade vow was also a quid pro quo for papal acceptance of Henry’s plan to secure the succession of his infant son Frederick’s succession in Germany as well as in Sicily, and part of a larger strategy to extend the power of the Staufen dynasty in the Mediterranean, and perhaps also to threaten the Byzantine Empire. Tension between pope and emperor dogged the preparations for crusade. Then, a few weeks after the bulk of his knights had set sail from Palermo, in April 1197 Henry’s Sicilian nobles rose in revolt. Scarcely had the emperor suppressed the uprising when he died of a malarial fever on 28 September. Despite this second catastrophic death of a crusading emperor, the substantial German army of imperial troops and contingents from Austria, Thuringia, Brabant, and elsewhere made some modest gains, restoring the land-link between the county of Tripoli and the kingdom of Jerusalem by the capture of Sidon and Beirut. Significant for the future was to be the formal incorporation by the German princes of the Teutonic Order, which had begun as a field-hospital at Acre in 1190 and now acquired a charter from the pope and a rule based on that of the Templars.

Crusading during the Struggle between the Staufen and Welf Dynasties (1198-1215)

The death of Henry VI led to the election by rival parties of two competing kings, Henry’s younger brother Philip of Swabia and the Welf prince Otto IV (of Brunswick), son of Henry the Lion. Intermittent civil war persisted until 1208, when Philip was assassinated. Otto IV briefly ruled unchallenged. However, it was not long before the Staufen family put forward Henry VI’s son Frederick II, the young king of Sicily, as a rival candidate.

Pope Innocent III, elected in 1198, intervened actively in the political conflict in Germany and vigorously reasserted papal control and direction of the crusade. Already in August 1198 he began the preaching of a new expedition and found support not only in France and the Low Countries, but also in northern Italy and the Rhineland, though the political and military situation in the empire ruled out organized German participation. Nonetheless, King Philip acquired a strong interest in the crusade. At Whitsun 1197 he had married Irene (who took the new name Maria), daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos, a marriage that had formed part of the long-term policy of Frederick Barbarossa and Henry VI to gain influence in the eastern Mediterranean and work toward the reuniting of the Eastern and Western empires and churches. Isaac had been deposed, blinded, and imprisoned with his son Alexios IV in 1195. Innocent’s expedition, the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), did not depart until late 1202. In order to pay the Venetians for providing the army with sea transport, the crusade’s leaders were forced to divert the campaign to recover the Venetian city of Zara (mod. Zadar, Croatia), lost to Hungary in 1186. Alexios had escaped from Constantinople and now persuaded the leaders of the crusade to restore him and his father to power. In return, he would pay 200,000 marks to finance the crusade and reunite the Greek Orthodox and Latin churches. Constantinople surrendered to the crusaders in July 1203. Alexios IV and his father were then deposed once more—and murdered—by a popular uprising. On 15 April 1204 the crusaders took control of the city, crowned Count Baldwin IX of Flanders as first Latin ruler of the new empire of Romania, and established new crusader states across its territory. With that, a long-nurtured strategic interest of the Staufen dynasty in the Byzantine Empire was extinguished without the possibility of German military involvement.

Until 1227, when Frederick II fulfilled the crusading vow he first took in 1215, German participation in crusading ventures of different kinds remained more or less marginal. With the Albigensian Crusade against the heretical Cathar sect in southern France (1209-1229), Innocent III extended the status of crusade to what Pope Gregory VII had called the militia sancti Petri (military service of St. Peter), that is, holy war within Christendom in defense of papal interests. Though overwhelmingly a French affair, the crusade was preached also in the Low Countries, Lotharingia, Saxony, Bavaria, and Austria. Its most prominent German participant was Duke Leopold VI of Austria, who followed his father and brother as a devoted crusader. Beyond papal or secular control was the calamitous Children’s Crusade (1212), which is poorly documented but was evidently sparked off in Cologne by the ferment aroused by popular preaching for the Albigensian Crusade.

Frederick II and the Crusade

Pope Innocent’s repeatedly frustrated attempts to organize a crusade that would recover Jerusalem ended with his appeal at Easter 1213. This campaign, the so-called Fifth Crusade (1217-1221), did not begin until after his death (1216). It was not the young German king Frederick II, despite the vow he took after his coronation at Aachen in 1215, but Leopold VI of Austria who departed first. He was joined at Acre by the kings of Hungary and Cyprus. Only in the spring of 1218 were sufficient forces assembled to mount an attack on Egypt, including “men of noble birth, and the great soldiery of the Teutonic king,” according to Oliver of Paderborn [Christian Society and the Crusades 1198-1229, ed. Edward Peters (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971), p. 52]. Under Leopold’s command, the knights of the Teutonic Order for the first time joined the Templars and Hospitallers in warfare. Leopold fought with distinction in the siege of Damietta, alongside Count Simon of Saar- brücken and Count Adolf of Berg, brother of Archbishop Engelbert I of Cologne. However, the duke returned home in May 1219, having “for a year and a half fought faithfully for Christ, full of devotion, humility, obedience, and generosity” [Oliver of Paderborn, in Christian Society and the Crusades 1198-1229, p. 78].

Once Damietta was taken, the papal legate Cardinal Pelag- ius of Albano waited twenty months for Frederick II to arrive. The Teutonic Knights, as well as nobles such as Count Henry of Schwerin and Count Diether of Katzenel- lenbogen, maintained a German presence, and Duke Ludwig I of Bavaria arrived as Frederick’s representative legate, with Bishop Ulrich of Passau and Margrave Hermann V of Baden. However, the recently crowned Emperor Frederick II never came, thus escaping or failing to avert the capitulation of Pelagius’s army in August 1221.

Frederick II had made his vow of crusade immediately after his coronation as king of Germany in Aachen on 25 July 1215, his enthronement on the seat of Charlemagne, and his ceremonial sealing of the refurbished shrine of the great emperor. This reassertion of the imperial prerogative of leading the holy war of Christendom implied a challenge to Innocent III’s papal control and direction of the crusade. In the immediate term, Frederick needed to complete his hold over his German territories. That he played no role in the siege and capture of Damietta scarcely needs excusing. Innocent’s successor, Pope Honorius III, first attempted to enforce the king’s vow in late 1218. Frederick assured the pope that he and his nobles would depart on crusade by 24 June 1219, provided Honorius did all that was possible to force the German princes to cease their obstructive stratagems. Should all that fail, he urged the pope to excommunicate him and the princes. Frederick hoped by this device to force the princes to elect his young son Henry (VII) to the German crown and to ensure his own imperial coronation before his departure on crusade. It was not until November 1220 that these preconditions were fulfilled. The crucial issue that remained was Frederick’s resumption of control over the kingdom of Sicily, which his father, Henry VI, had acquired through his marriage to Constance of Hauteville.

The specter of an emperor with a firm basis of power in southern Italy as well as an effective cooperation with the German princes had haunted Rome since 1191. Honorius was nonetheless prepared to accept Frederick’s restoration of imperial power, provided the emperor was committed to defend the church against heresy and to unite the laity in crusade to recover Jerusalem. What brought church and empire into final collision was Frederick’s continuing failure to fulfill promises of action. In March 1223 Frederick had sworn that he would depart on crusade by June 1225; he coupled this with an undertaking to marry Isabella II (also known as Yolande), daughter of John of Brienne and queen of Jerusalem through succession to her mother, Maria of Mont- ferrat (“la Marquise”). It may have been the pope who proposed this marriage in order to strengthen Frederick’s commitment, but the ideological resonance of adding the kingship of Jerusalem to the German imperial and Sicilian royal crowns must have been a powerful inducement to Frederick. Efforts to raise enthusiasm for a crusade met with no success in England or France. In July 1225 a papal delegation met Frederick in San Germano and extracted from him a new pledge to lead 1,000 knights and 150 ships and galleys to the Holy Land, on pain of excommunication, by August 1227. On 9 November 1225 Frederick married Isabella II in Brindisi and claimed the title and rights of king of Jerusalem. For the first time, a crusade was to be the obligation of a single monarch, and one who would go not merely as a crusader but as the first Western ruler to wear the crown of Jerusalem.

When Honorius III died in March 1227, the cardinals elected the eighty-six-year-old Gregory IX. His choice of adopted name signaled his intention to assert papal interests against the empire. When August 1227 came, Frederick’s fleet began to leave Brindisi. Frederick himself set sail on 8 September with Landgrave Ludwig IV of Thuringia, but he returned to land within two days when an epidemic broke out on board, from which Ludwig died. Gregory excommunicated the emperor for his technical breach of the agreement of San Germano. When Frederick embarked again on 28 June 1228, the pope renewed the ban, and the emperor reached Acre as excommunicate crusader. Not only in this further sense was Frederick’s expedition unique. He immediately took up earlier preparatory contact with Sultan al- Kāmil of Egypt, and on 11 February 1229 they concluded a treaty that ceded to the Christians most of Jerusalem, along with Bethlehem, Nazareth, and a land corridor to Acre. Jerusalem and Montfort could be refortified, and a ten-year truce was agreed. On 17 March the emperor entered Jerusalem, where he crowned himself king in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, though the papal ban disqualified him from hearing Mass, and he issued an imperial encyclical extolling himself as soldier of Christ and divinely ordained instrument of God’s plan of salvation.

On 1 May 1229 Frederick left the Holy Land, never to return, though he used the title of king of Jerusalem until his death and continued to support the kingdom financially and diplomatically. Gregory IX responded to Frederick’s defiance by releasing his subjects in Sicily from their allegiance to their king and invading the kingdom. Though forced to come to terms with Frederick in 1230, Gregory was determined to secure the papal states of central Italy against imperial domination. He fomented opposition against Frederick in the north Italian imperial territories, which led to open war in 1237. The emperor fought to crush resistance and marched on Rome itself in 1240. Pope Gregory proclaimed a crusade against Frederick but died, aged 100, in 1241. His successor, Innocent IV, issued a new bull of crusade in 1244, and a general council of the church deposed the emperor in July 1245. Forces of the north Italian cities defeated Frederick’s army at Vittoria in 1248, and Frederick died on 13 December 1250. After the brief reign of Frederick’s son Conrad IV (d. 1254), further “crusades” led by Charles I of Anjou ended in the defeat and death of Frederick’s illegitimate son Manfred in 1266 and of his grandson Conradin in 1268. Thus the search for a synthesis of empire and crusade reached its bitter conclusion.

After 1254 the German kings were usually too preoccupied with struggles against rival claimants to undertake crusades, even if they proclaimed their intention to do so, and it was not until the reign of Sigismund, king of Hungary and Holy Roman Emperor, that a German monarch played a major role in the crusade movement. Some individuals and groups, such as the Rhineland Crusade of 1267, did go to the Holy Land, but the main crusading activity of Germans in the later Middle Ages was to be directed toward the Baltic front.

The Teutonic Order and the Baltic Crusades

Sometime before 1118, a “Hospital of St. Mary of the Germans in Jerusalem” was founded as a hostel for German pilgrims, providing also medical care for the sick. It acquired a small church dedicated to the Virgin. At papal insistence the Hospitallers supervised its functioning. It ceased to exist with the fall of Jerusalem in 1187. In 1190 at the siege of Acre a group of merchants from Bremen and Lübeck set up a field hospital, with encouragement from Duke Frederick V of Swabia. When Acre was captured, it became a permanent hospital with the revived name of the Hospital of St. Mary. Emperor Henry VI envisaged a more prominent role for it and took the first steps to develop it as a military order following the model of the Hospitallers and Templars. Henry and Duke Leopold VI of Austria were among its first patrons. It built castles, notably Montfort, in the north of the kingdom of Jerusalem.

The order’s rapid evolution in the early thirteenth century owed much to its third grand master, the Thuringian nobleman Hermann von Salza, who became a key adviser of Emperor Frederick II. The order’s knights played a prominent role in the Fifth Crusade. Frederick was not only a generous source of donations and privileges, but looked to the Teutonic Order as his prime military presence in the kingdom of Jerusalem from 1228. That led Pope Gregory IX to attempt to renew the supervisory role of the Hospitallers over the order, and both the older military brotherhoods resented its rapid rise. This enmity climaxed in 1241 in armed conflict between Teutonic Knights and Templars.

What set the Teutonic Order apart from the two older military orders in the Holy Land was its almost exclusively German national composition and support. At the outset its mission was to care for German pilgrims; it recruited only German knights, and although it attracted donations from across Europe, its material base was essentially in Germany, even if it also held lands and occasionally fought in Italy and Spain. The Hospitallers had extensive possessions in Germany; the Templars were less favored, with the exception of some houses in Bohemia and Moravia. The Teutonic Order came to outstrip both in popularity within the Germanspeaking lands. As Frederick II’s power waned, and as the Holy Land came under increasing threat in the thirteenth century, the order’s influence and role in Syria and Palestine began to diminish. Already in the early thirteenth century a new theater of holy war began to open up. Popes Celestine III and Innocent III began in the 1190s to take a new interest in the Baltic Crusades, authorizing indulgences for the defense of the church in Livonia in 1193 and 1197 and proclaiming a Livonian crusade in 1199. By 1202 Albert of Bux- hovden, bishop of Riga, formed a small military order, the Sword Brethren, and around 1222 Bishop Christian of Prussia recruited fourteen German knights to form the Brethren of the Knighthood of Christ, known after their fortress as Knights of Dobrin.

The lack of success of the crusading campaign in Prussia led Duke Conrad of Mazovia to urge the Teutonic Order to take over the conquest and conversion of Prussia. Hermann von Salza was wary, in light of a failed involvement of the order in Hungary, whereas Frederick II was looking to the order for a major military role in the Holy Land. However, by 1229, with Frederick’s crusade accomplished, Hermann deployed a detachment to the River Vistula, and Frederick, in the Golden Bull of Rimini, granted the grand masters the rights of an imperial territorial prince in the lands to be conquered. Gregory IX countered this in the Bull of Rieti in 1234, taking all lands conquered by the order under the protectorate of the Holy See.

By 1236 the Teutonic Order had assimilated the Sword Brethren. The response to the order’s new focus in the eastern Baltic region stimulated a flood of recruits and donations from those areas of northern and central Germany that preserved the ancient tradition of the Slav wars from Ottonian times, and where these wars had been regarded as crusades since 1147. From the mid-thirteenth century onward, the Baltic or Northern Crusades became gradually more an aspect of German expansion along the Baltic than of the crusading movement in a precise sense. By 1240 the conquest of the western Prussians was accomplished and by 1283 that of the Curonians and southern Letts. Victory on the Baltic coincided with the relentless fall of Christian strongholds in the Holy Land. In 1309 the order’s headquarters were transferred to the Marienburg (mod. Malbork, Poland) in Prussia.

The Teutonic Order did not escape the criticism that was leveled at the Templars and Hospitallers once they had lost their primary role in the Holy Land. As early as 1268 the philosopher Roger Bacon had accused them of behaving as brutal conquerors instead of converting the heathen. In 1297-1299, discord between Archbishop John III of Riga and the citizens of the town, on the one hand, and the order, on the other, led to an alliance of the burgesses with the heathen Grand Duke Vytenis of Lithuania against the Teutonic Knights. Echoing Bacon’s strictures, the archbishop took their complaints to the Curia between 1300 and 1306, forcing the order to defend its record. When the order then seized Danzig (mod. Gdansk, Poland), the Polish monarchy likewise appealed to Rome, and in 1309 the pope authorized envoys to investigate the order’s activities.

Under the reforming grand masters Werner von Orseln, Luder von Braunschweig, and Dietrich von Aldenburg between 1324 and 1341, the Teutonic Order was able to strengthen its spiritual and military disciplines and to reestablish its legitimacy in the eyes of the church. Its possession of rich agricultural lands and the economic prosperity generated by the Hanseatic League took the order to the peak of its prestige and success in the later fourteenth century. Royal and noble knights from all over Europe flocked to join its summer campaigns against pagan Lithuania. However, the Lithuanians, once converted, entered into alliance with Poland, and in 1410 the knights were crushingly defeated by these fellow Christians at the battle of Tannen- berg (Grunwald). As the order discharged its perpetual crusade and lost its ideological reason for existence, German and Polish nobles and burgesses came to resent its unchecked power and wealth. In the Thirteen Years’ War of 1454-1466, they ousted the order from West Prussia, and the grand masters became vassals of the Polish kings.

The Crusades against the Hussites

The abuses of theocracy in the Teutonic Order became one of the many issues debated at the Council of Konstanz between 1415 and 1418. Another was the heretical movement in Bohemia led by Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake in Konstanz in 1415. Sigismund, German king from 1410, king of Bohemia from 1419, and crowned emperor in 1433, was persuaded by Pope Martin V to lead a crusade against the Hussites in 1420, but was defeated at the battles of Vitkov and Vysehrad and forced out of Prague and Bohemia. In no less than five crusades between 1420 and 1431, mounted by Sigismund and the German princes from Silesia and Hungary, MeiBen, Bavaria, and Austria, the Hussites maintained the military advantage, until Emperor Sigismund was compelled to reach a politico-religious compromise with them in 1436.

Kings of Germany in the

Period of the Crusades

Note: Particularly in the thirteenth and fourteenth cen-

turies, there were often rival claimants to the throne.

Dates in parentheses give the years of coronations as Holy Roman Emperors.

Henry IV

1056-1105 (1084)

Henry V

1105-1125 (1111)

Lothar III

1125-1137 (1133)

Conrad III


Frederick I Barbarossa

1152-1190 (1155)

Henry VI

1190-1197 (1191)

Philip of Swabia


Otto IV

1198-1218 (1209)

Frederick II

1212-1250 (1220)

Henry Raspe


William of Holland


Conrad IV


Richard of Cornwall


Rudolf of Habsburg


Adolf of Nassau


Albert I


Henry VII

1308-1313 (1312)

Ludwig IV

1314-1347 (1328)

Frederick of Habsburg


Charles IV

1346-1378 (1355)

Günther of Schwarzburg




Rupert of the Palatinate


Sigismund of Luxembourg

1410-1437 (1433)

Albert II


Frederick III

1440-1493 (1452)

Maximilian I

1493-1519 (1508)

Charles V

1519-1558 (1530)

The Roman Catholic Church, at the Council of Trent, linked the combating of the Protestant Reformation with the idea of the crusade against the Turkish infidels. Knights of the Teutonic Order played a small part in the wars to halt the Turkish advance in the seventeenth century. But in reality, the profession of the Lutheran faith by Albrecht von Bran- denburg-Ansbach, grand master of the Teutonic Order in 1525, and the consequent transformation of the order’s Prussian lands into a Protestant duchy of the kingdom of Poland, then the secularization of the Livonian territories in 1561, marked the end of the long history of German imperial holy war and crusade in the eastern Baltic lands and along the eastern marches of the empire. Those Teutonic Knights who remained Catholic retreated to a small free imperial territory around Mergentheim in southwestern Germany, where—like the Hospitallers—they turned increasingly to an auxiliary medical role. In 1809 the order moved its headquarters to Vienna, where a grand master still presides over its charitable activities.

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