Post-classical history

Pskov

A city in northwestern Russia, first mentioned in 903, that was frequently the object of crusader attacks in the course of the Baltic Crusades.

The stone fortress of Pskov, built in the tenth century on the site of an earlier settlement, was situated on heights above the confluence of the river Pskova into the river Velikaya. Pskov became an important commercial and industrial center in the tenth-eleventh centuries, thanks to its situation at the meeting of water and land routes leading from the inner regions of Russia to the Baltic Sea. From the first half of the eleventh century, Pskov and its surrounding territory, known as the Pskovian Land (Russ. Pskovskaya zemlya), formed a part of the Novgorodian state, ruled by governors sent from Novgorod.

The aristocracy and merchants of Pskov repeatedly tried to establish a principality independent of Novgorod. They hoped to exploit the desires of the papacy and the prelates of the Livonian church, who in turn intended to establish a Latin bishopric in Pskov by taking advantage of the dissent between Pskov and Novgorod. The Pskovians came closest to attaining independence when the city was ruled by Prince Vladimir Mstislavich (c. 1209-1211 and 1214-1227).

In 1210 the Pskovians signed a military treaty with Riga, which was supported by a marriage between Dietrich, brother of Bishop Albert of Riga, and a daughter of Vladimir. Although Vladimir took part in the Russian military campaigns against Livonia, he tried to negotiate with the Livonians in order to ward off their attacks against Pskov. In 1228 the Pskovians, being afraid of a punitive expedition from Novgorod, signed a treaty of defense with Riga.

From the late 1220s, the Livonian ecclesiastics made efforts to extend the diocese of Riga into northwestern Russia, using the ambitions of Prince Vladimir’s son Yaroslav to ascend the princely throne in Pskov, which he regarded as his father’s heritage. About 1240 the bishop of Dorpat (mod. Tartu, Estonia) persuaded Yaroslav to accept the status of a vassal, promising military help against Novgorod. However, the act of donation of the Pskovian Land can hardly be held lawful, as Yaroslav did not have real authority over Pskov. The bishop of Dorpat nevertheless now had a claim on the Pskovian Land. On 15 September 1240 the hosts of the bishopric of Dorpat and the Teutonic Order in Livonia captured Pskov after seven days’ siege. The surrender of the fortress was a result both of the treachery of some native boyars and of the fact that several sons of the Pskovian elite had been taken as hostages. The crusaders remained in Pskov till March 1242, when they were expelled by the troops of Prince Alexander Yaroslavich (Nevskii).

In 1248 the bishop of Dorpat and the Livonian Order failed in an attack designed to obtain the “heritage of Pskov.” In May 1269 the town was besieged for a week by combined Livonian forces, which arrived by land and on ships; they burned the suburbs but retreated in the face of reinforcements from Novgorod. Another Livonian attack in 1299 resulted in a siege of Pskov, but the inhabitants led by Prince Dovmont (1266-1299) successfully defended the town.

In 1323 the Livonians failed to capture Pskov after three days’ siege, while in 1343 the Pskovians defeated the Livonians near the fortress of Odenpah (mod. Otepaa, Estonia). In spite of the constant increase of trade, which was profitable for both partners, wars between Pskov and Livonia were also fought in the fifteenth century. A peace treaty in 1448 and the armistices in 1461 and 1463 between Pskov and the bishopric of Dorpat were broken off before the specified time. Neither adversary had sufficient strength for the decisive blow. In 1469, 1501-1502, and 1558 the Pskovian Land formed a foothold for the offensive of Muscovite armies into Livonia; in 1510 Pskov was annexed to the Muscovite state.

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