Post-classical history

Warfare: The Baltic Crusades

In nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature on the history of war, warfare in the Baltic region at the time of the crusades is mentioned only marginally, because the Christianization and subjection of the pagan Finno-Ugrian and Baltic tribes to the south and east of the Baltic Sea between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries largely occurred without the kind of highlights that lend themselves to the writing of grand narrative. Decisive battles were rare, and warfare mostly consisted of expeditions for the purposes of looting and devastation. During the last few decades, however, this type of warfare has attracted increasing attention not only from scholars in Germany and the modern countries in what once were the target areas of crusading, but also from English-speaking historians. The best known aspect of the Baltic Crusades is the century-long war against the Lithuanians, which ended in 1410 with the disastrous defeat of the Teutonic Order at Tannenberg (also known in Polish as Grunwald and Lithuanian as Zalgiris). That battle can be seen as the final point of the crusading era in the Baltic region.

Not only heathens but also the Greek Orthodox Christians of Russia, regarded as “schismatics” by the Roman Catholic (Latin) Church, were targets for the crusades. One main theater of war in this respect was the inner part of the Gulf of Finland, where the Swedes fought with the Novgorodian state for control of important trade routes. The Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order also tried to expand its territory at the expense of Novgorod but had to give up this undertaking after a defeat in 1242.

Except for the Lithuanians, the heathen tribes in the Baltic had not yet begun any process of nation building, which is one important reason why the early and successful expansion of the numerically much inferior Christians was possible. The crusaders profited from the rivalry and hostility between the tribes, using the old technique of divide and rule to secure victory and expand. Through alliances with some tribes, others could be fought and defeated. Thereafter the allies were often ready to accept Christian protection and domination and to convert to the new faith. Within the sphere of influence of the military religious orders, Christianity mostly spread by force, by means of the so-called mission of the sword (Ger. Schwertmission).

Any peaceful coexistence of the heathen tribes in the Baltic region before the arrival of the crusaders was the exception rather than the rule. Just as modern anthropology has ascertained that the descriptions of the idyllic life of the indigenous peoples on the Pacific islands given by Margaret Mead in her book Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) are highly exaggerated, a reading of the chronicle of the thirteenth-century writer Henry of Livonia provides proof that similar romantic ideas about the heathen tribes in the eastern Baltic do not correspond to reality. Equally, it would be a mistake to think that the Christians in the Baltic region were always united. There were numerous tensions and conflicts between the military orders and the bishop (after 1250 archbishop) of Riga; in 1233 there was even a fierce battle between the Order of the Sword Brethren and papal troops in Reval (mod. Tallinn, Estonia), in which the former were victorious.

Recorded history in the Baltic region mostly derives from the victors; only the Greek Orthodox Christians of Russia had a written culture like that of the Latin West from the beginning of the crusade period. The pagan tribes in Finland, Livonia, and Prussia left no written records. In Lithuania diplomatic correspondence gradually developed, but there were no early Lithuanian chronicles; the first appeared only at the beginning of the sixteenth century, written in Belorussian. For that reason research is heavily dependent on Russian annals and chronicles and, above all, the many important chronicles from the crusader states of Livonia and Prussia: the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia, the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, and chronicles by Peter von Dusburg, Nicolaus von Jeroschin, Hermann von Wartberge, Wigand von Marburg, Johann von Posilge, and others. There are also several extensive editions of charters, letters, and different sorts of accounts. The most important records of the Teutonic Order in Prussia (most of them still unedited) are now kept in the Geheimes Staatsarchiv PreuBischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin. Unfortunately, no equivalent records of the Livonian branch of the order have survived.

Crusaders battle Russians in the film Alexander Nevsky, directed by Sergei Eisenstein (1938). (Bettmann/Corbis)

Crusaders battle Russians in the film Alexander Nevsky, directed by Sergei Eisenstein (1938). (Bettmann/Corbis)

Besides written sources, archaeological sites and artifacts give evidence of warfare at the time of the Baltic Crusades. There are hundreds of remains of pagan hill forts and other defensive structures, which are now being thoroughly investigated and sometimes reconstructed by archaeologists. The advance of settlement and colonization is exemplified by the many imposing, strong castles of the military orders, notably the main castle of the Teutonic Order, Marienburg (mod. Malbork, Poland) in Prussia.

Pagan Arms, Armor, and Warfare

If battle could not be avoided, pagan warriors fought on foot at long range with bows, slings, and javelins and man-to- man with spears, swords, long and broad battle knives, axes, and clubs. As speed and surprise were decisive for the success of an attack, body protection was relatively light.

However, when heathen warriors are described in the chronicles as being unarmed (Lat. inermes), this merely means that they were not ironclad; that is, they had no armor corresponding to that of the Western knights. Besides their weapons they may at least have had shields and helmets and probably also had other body protection of leather and metal. There was no uniformity in equipment but, rather, regional differences in the vast area from Finland in the north to Prussia in the south.

Eastern elements sometimes played an important role, as can be demonstrated in the case of the open conical “Prussian” helmet that originated in Byzantium and Russia and was equipped with mail aventails (flaps) on the sides and at the rear or with aventails consisting of small rectangular plates fixed together on leather. This type of helmet was adopted from the Prussians by the Teutonic Order and became very popular, being worn not only by the indigenous auxiliary troops. A similar helmet, called pekilhube in the inventories of the order (the origin of the later German Pickelhaube, literally “spiked bonnet”), was also borrowed from the Prussians by the Teutonic Knights. A type of equestrian shield, or pavise, of Baltic origin was the so-called Prussian or Lithuanian shield (Lat. scutum Pruthenicum or clipeus Litwanicus), which became popular even in western Europe. It was rather small, ranging in size from 30 to 50 centimeters in width and 60 to 70 centimeters in height. Another example of transfer from East to West was the light Lithuanian lance called the sulice. According to the Polish chronicler Jan D-ugosz, such lances could be seen among the weapons of the Teutonic Order’s troops at Tannenberg.

The heathen armies in the Baltic region were levies of peasants under the command of a small elite of nobles, who could be regarded as professional warriors. Each village had an elder, villages formed districts, and districts formed provinces, governed by councils of district elders. It was possible to decide in advance the numbers required by the territorial levy (in Livonia called malewa) and to coordinate plans.

Swift expeditions with surprise attacks, designed to plunder and devastate enemy territory, were characteristic of such tribal warfare. The small but tenacious and hardy indigenous horses (Ger. Schweike, from a Baltic word for “healthy”) served as fast and reliable warhorses, saddle horses, packhorses, and draft horses for carts and sledges. When enemy settlements were reached, fixed quarters (called maia by Henry of Livonia, and sowalk by Hermann von Wartberge) were set up, and groups of men spread out for looting. Booty consisted largely of captives, horses and livestock, weapons, textiles, furs, and metals and was gathered in the maia; it was then important either to continue the campaign elsewhere or to withdraw quickly in order to avoid counterattack by the local levy. The defeated men were in most cases killed, whereas the women and children were taken along with the expedition as captives. On occasion no one was spared. People and animals that could not be taken away were killed, and houses and stores were burned. As the principal purpose of warfare was plundering and devastation, not the acquisition of land, battles and sieges were avoided. Places of refuge existed in the form of forts built of timber and earth, or sometimes of loose stones from the fields (without mortar), and surrounded by ditches and palisades. Sites were chosen with the criterion of providing refuge: preferably hills, islands, or locations near a river or lake. When the alarm was given, villagers took refuge in their forts along with their animals and belongings or retreated to hiding places in surrounding forests and bogs.

Enemy territories and settlements that were selected to be ravaged were often surrounded by vast forests and swamps. Besides such natural obstacles, the attacking levy often had to face artificially erected barriers or barricades (in the German chronicles called hagen) made of felled trees, branches, bushes, and thicket. These were constructed at strategic sites and were carefully maintained by the local population as protection for their territories or villages. Such obstacles could delay an attack and make it possible for guards to give the alarm. Raids mostly took place in summer or early autumn, but sometimes also in winter when weather conditions were favorable. They could be short or could last for many weeks, and often covered hundreds of kilometers.

Christian Arms, Armor, and Military Innovations

The confrontation of the heathen levies with the crusaders and the armies of the military orders (the Sword Brethren, the Teutonic Order, and the short-lived Knights of Dobrin) was a clash between two different worlds: one of a fundamentally archaic structure, the other representing the peak of military progress of the time. The development of chivalry and warfare in Latin Europe had profited from the experiences of Christian knights during the crusades to the Holy Land. Horses were not simply a means of transport; large horses were systematically bred and trained to carry a saddle with an armored knight, who fought the enemy with his lance and sword. The knight of the thirteenth century was protected by a coat of mail (known as a hauberk) consisting of small iron or steel rings and by a pot helmet or (from the end of the century) a great helm, as well as a shield. The great helm was an irreplaceable attribute of chivalry in the West, but in Livonia and Prussia it never became popular among the knights during the campaigns because it was heavy, limited the range of sight, and made breathing difficult. The Teutonic Knights surmounted their great helms with crests in the shape of a circle with a black cross or with white pennons also with a cross. From the second half of the fourteenth century the more practical basinets with mail aven- tails were worn even by the highest dignitaries of the order. Also kettle-hats (iron caps with brims) were often used by the Teutonic Knights as well as by knights of lesser status.

After the mid-fourteenth century the very popular and common mail hauberk was slowly being replaced by new body and limb defenses (various types of lamellar and scale plates) and, from the end of the century, by full plate armor. At an earlier stage plates were made in the form of a “poncho” consisting of rows of iron plates arranged vertically or horizontally and riveted to leather or thick cloth. There is also evidence of a combination of the two types of armor, the mail hauberk being worn under the plates. Thus, a horse had to carry a knight weighing up to 150 kilograms (c. 330 lb.) or even more. On the battlefield under normal conditions such heavy cavalry was able to crush even numerically superior heathen armies. Only in forests, in boggy terrain, or in places with poor visibility was it possible for light cavalry and infantry to defend themselves successfully and win victories. The surviving inventories of the Teutonic Order in Prussia give much information about the knights’ arms and armor stored in the castles.

Because Christian campaigns had to deal with the difficult terrain of forests and bogs, the Teutonic Knights often did without armor and coverings for the horses and straps for their breast and croup. The saddles had to be simple, without superfluous heads and straps, since both horse and equipment needed to be streamlined to avoid being caught in the scrub.

There were many innovations in Christian military techniques in the Baltic region. One such important development was the erection of permanent fortresses in stone or brick: the manufacture of bricks and mortar was unknown in the eastern Baltic lands until the crusader conquest. The military orders undoubtedly took over and practiced the heathen techniques of erecting fortifications made of wood and mounds of earth, but they also built networks of castles in suitable sites all over the Baltic region. These, together with the fortified larger towns, constituted the backbone of the new Christian states: it was practically impossible for heathen forces to take them by storm.

When the crossbow was introduced to the Baltic region (in the thirteenth century at the latest), the Christians had an effective long-range weapon that proved superior to the javelins, slings, and bows of their opponents and could be used in battle as well as in sieges and the defense of fortifications. The heathen tribes and their Russian neighbors in Novgorod, Polotsk, Smolensk, and Pskov dreaded the crossbow; up to this time they knew only the traditional bow, which was less effective. There was an extensive production of crossbows in the order’s workshops (Ger. Schnitzhaus, pl. Schnitzhauser), probably on a scale that was unparalleled elsewhere in Europe. To be sure, the longbows of the English archers were more powerful than crossbows of wood and horn, although not more so than the steel crossbows introduced at the end of the fifteenth century; they also had faster rates of fire, as did the composite bows of the Turks and Mongols. The Teutonic Order became increasingly aware of this, as can be seen in the chronicle of Johann von Posilge, in which the effectiveness of the English longbow is praised. However, it was used only in the Baltic region on occasions when English crusaders came to Prussia. Thus, the crossbow remained the most important long-distance hand weapon in the Baltic until it was slowly replaced by firearms from the fifteenth century onward.

Also unknown to the peoples in the Baltic region were the heavy siege weapons, such as catapults and trebuchets, battering rams, and siege towers, which were also introduced by the crusaders. In the second half of the fourteenth century the use of gunpowder was effectively demonstrated, first by the Christians and then, two decades later, by the Lithuanians, who were eager and sufficiently skillful to adopt the new techniques.

The combination of these new developments made it possible for Christian garrisons to withstand long sieges, provided they had sufficient supplies of food, weapons, and crossbow bolts. Conquered territories were secured systematically with new fortresses that served different purposes. One such purpose was to enable new military operations into enemy territory. For that reason the breeding of large horses was established on the order’s estates (Ger. Vorwerke), and stud farms were protected by castles. The warhorses of the order were mostly rendered infertile by sterilization or (less commonly) by castration in order to prevent them from being used for breeding in case they were caught by the enemy; for this reason they were called “monk horses” (Ger. Monchhengste). Mares were not used as warhorses.

The large horses were bred not only by the military orders but also in the Livonian and Prussian bishoprics and on the estates of the German and (in Estonia) Danish nobles. Around 1400 there were almost 14,000 horses in the Prussian castles, on the breeding farms, and on the estates, of which 7,200 belonged to the breed of large military horses. In addition there were the warhorses and saddle horses of the brethren, estimated at 2,250, and the horses belonging to the bishoprics and cities and some 4,700 nobles who were obliged to perform military service. These were the so-called freemen (Ger. Freie). The figures for Livonia are more difficult to estimate because of the lack of sources, but they were probably about half of the totals just mentioned.

Christian Military Service and Warfare

According to the Charter of Kulm (Ger. Kulmer Handfeste) of 1233, those nobles who held more than forty hides of land (672 hectares, or about 1,680 acres) from the Teutonic Order were to serve with heavy armor on a covered horse (Lat. dex- trarius opertus); in this case the horse was specified as having to be a stallion, and at least two further horsemen were required as escorts. This form of service was called Ross- dienst (stallion service). Those with ten to forty hides had to perform one or more of the less expensive services known as Platendienst (plate service), with plate armor or light weapons. In this form of service the horse was sterilized or castrated; castrated horses were certainly easier to handle on the march and in camp.

With the increasing importance of the crossbow as a long-range weapon, armor became heavier and plate service developed into service on a warhorse, which was about three to four times as expensive as the horses of the indigenous peoples. Around 1400 plate cost one-fifth of the price of a good warhorse. The native light auxiliary troops who made up a large proportion of the Christian forces fought on foot with their native weapons, using their smaller horses primarily as a means of transport.

Around 1400 there were some 700 knight brethren, sergeants, and priests of the Teutonic Order in Prussia and some 250 in Livonia. In Prussia the army, including the forces of the bishoprics and the towns, numbered well in excess of 10,000 men. This number did not include those serving in the baggage train, troops held reserve, seasonal crusaders, or mercenaries. The army of the Livonian branch of the order may have been about half as large as the Prussian.

In many respects the crusaders and military orders adopted the forms of warfare practiced by their heathen adversaries. They undertook swift expeditions and assaults in order to weaken and demoralize the enemy. Looting, killing, and taking prisoners were also important aims, whereas conversion often seems to have been of only secondary interest. Sometimes the pagans could save their lives if they agreed to accept the Christian faith, but mostly the men were killed and the captured women and children were brought as prisoners to Prussia or Livonia, where they were ransomed or sold, used in prisoner exchanges, or employed as slaves or settlers. It was a great advantage for the order to have access to this reserve of heathen human labor when Europe was struck by demographic crisis in the fourteenth century and the influx of settlers from the west gradually ceased. According to the theologian Thomas Aquinas, Christians could not be enslaved, but heathens could be. This was one of the reasons why the order refused to accept the Christianization of Lithuania (1387) and ignored the prohibitions on military expeditions into Lithuania by Wenceslas IV, king of Bohemia, in 1394 and Pope Boniface IX in 1403.

Besides brief attacks there were also longer campaigns, which could last several weeks. In all cases good planning was a precondition for the success of the undertaking. The provision of sufficient fodder for the horses and other supplies was part of this. In winter food for the troops and hay and oats for the horses had to be transported on packhorses or sledges; in summer the stages of the march had to be planned so as to give the horses the opportunity to graze. If necessary, provisions and fodder were also transported on packhorses, as the terrain made the use of carts difficult. The indigenous horses were well suited for this. Depots for provisions and fodder were placed along the line of march. If, when the army arrived, these were found to have been captured or destroyed by the enemy, the situation often became so acute that it was a matter of life or death. Because of the many lakes, rivers, and swamps in the wild frontier countryside (Ger. Wildnis), expeditions were very dependent on the weather: too much rain in summer made the terrain just as difficult to travel through as when the winter was too mild, too hard, or very snowy. A cold but not too snowy winter provided the best conditions: waterways and bogs froze over, thereby helping rather than hindering the progress of horses and sledges. Tracks in the snow also made it easier to find settlements and hiding places in the district that was to be ravaged. Thus the winter reyse (“campaign” or “journey”) of the Teutonic Order from Prussia against the Lithuanians was the order’s campaign par excellence. The excellent logistics and organization of the order functioned well in winter, whereas the more lightly armed heathens on their smaller horses preferred expeditions in summer.

In summer the Teutonic Knights in Prussia transported parts of the army and supplies along waterways when this was possible, whereas the mounted army had to force its way through the dreaded wilderness area east of Sambia, called Grauden. The chronicles tell of the hardships endured by the men and horses during these marches. In 1427 the marshal of the order remarked that there were no waterways from Livonia into Lithuania, so that campaigns in that direction could only be carried out with the indigenous small, shaggy horses. Both sides used spies and scouts (Lat. speculatores). Often barricades of felled trees had to be cleared or bypassed. Sometimes trees along the planned route of march were marked by axes before the expedition started, to enable it to find the way easily and avoid obstacles and pass the wilderness more quickly.

One hundred descriptions of campaign routes from the two last decades of the fourteenth century have been preserved in the archives of the Teutonic Order: these are the so-called Wegeberichte, which originated from scouts and guides (Ger. Leitsleute) in the region. These valuable sources were compiled and revised by local knight brethren or servants of the order and sent to the marshal, who was also commander of Konigsberg (mod. Kaliningrad, Russia). They served as an important resource in the planning and execution of expeditions from Prussia to Lithuania. They give details of distances, Lithuanian settlements, suitable places for depots and camps, the condition of the terrain, roads, and paths as well as of natural or artificial obstacles to be overcome. They also carefully note where water and, in summer, grass for the horses could be found. Besides their importance for military history these sources are valuable for Lithuanian linguistic research.

When the targeted settlements were reached, a camp was built and groups of knights and armed men spread out to loot and kill. The Sword Brethren and the Teutonic Knights thus used the same tactics that the indigenous peoples had practiced for hundreds of years before they were confronted with Christianity. In order not to be surprised by a counterattack of the local levy, the army did not stay long at the same place but soon moved to another district, where the same procedure was repeated. Some days or weeks later the campaign ended, and the army marched back to Prussia or Livonia with its prisoners of war, captured horses, and other booty.

Small groups of irregulars were used by the Teutonic Order in the wilderness, where they ravaged and killed settlers on their own initiative. These were the dreaded latrun- culi (“robbers” or “bandits”), who were called struter in the contemporary sources of the order. The order wanted to keep the wilderness intact as a broad natural defensive barrier, especially against the Lithuanians.

The indigenous peoples in the target countries defended themselves by various means: by defending their own castles and other fortifications, by besieging those of the Christians, and by attacks, ambushes, feigned retreats, and the destruction of the crusaders’ depots of provisions and fodder. The Lithuanians especially also undertook long expeditions into the lands of the order, killing, plundering, and taking prisoners, who, according to the chroniclers of the order, were enslaved. It was a vicious circle that was broken mainly by the battle of Tannenberg in 1410.

There were also types of expeditions other than the raids mentioned above: fortresses and castles had to be erected, and enemy fortresses had to be besieged and destroyed. Fortifications in the wilderness were built in summer for preference, when the waterways could be used for transporting building materials. If possible, heavy equipment for sieges was also carried by boat; otherwise these war machines had to be constructed before the enemy’s fortresses. Defensive measures in the event of an attack required the levy (or parts of it) to be mobilized and mustered at places of strategic importance near the frontier. The levy not only consisted of the knight brethren of the order and German, Danish (in Estonia), and indigenous nobles but also included armed men from the bishoprics and towns.

Compared to expeditions for plundering and devastation, pitched battles were rather rare. In these cases the knight brethren and crusader heavy cavalry took their place in the middle of the formation, with the indigenous auxiliaries and other troops on the wings to the right and the left. Many of the battles were won by the Christian armies, but in a significant number the pagans or Russians were victorious. The heathen Estonians were defeated at Treiden (1211), Fellin (1217), and Lyndanise (1219), whereas the Sword Brethren were defeated by the Lithuanians at Saule in 1236. The Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order was defeated by the Novgorodians at Lake Peipus in 1242 and by the Lithuanians of Samogitia at Schoden in 1259 and at Durben in 1260. Well-known battles of the Teutonic Order in Prussia include the victories over the Lithuanians at Strebe (1348) and at Rudau (1370) and the defeat at Tannenberg at the hands of the Lithuanians and Poles in 1410. The Novgorodians had already halted Swedish expansion at the inner part of the Gulf of Finland through a victory at the river Neva in 1240.

A constant strategic goal of the Teutonic Order was to conquer the western Lithuanian land of Samogitia (Lith. Zemaitija) in order to achieve a territorial connection between the two branches of the order in Livonia and Prussia. Military operations were therefore often coordinated. The warlike Samogitians were never subjugated by the order, but in the peace treaty between Grand Master Konrad von Jungingen and the Lithuanian grand duke Vytautas at Sallinwerder in 1398, Samogitia was awarded to the order. However, this acquisition only brought disaster, because an uprising in Samogitia in 1409 launched the chain of events that ended one year later with the defeat at Tannenberg.

Mutual Influences and Adaptation

For the military orders it was always a struggle to maintain their advantage through continual improvements in techniques, equipment, and horsepower. The element of surprise was short-lived. Innovations are notorious for the speed with which they spread, and it was always only a question of time before the Christians’ opponents became familiar with them and thus able to use them in turn. In the first half of the fourteenth century stone or brick fortresses were increasingly replacing wood and earth constructions in Lithuania, while heavy siege weapons were also known to the heathens by this time. The first reliable report of the use of firearms (Ger. Lot- büchsen) by the Teutonic Order occurs in a chronicle describing a siege in 1362. Two decades later, bombards were used by the Lithuanians against the fortresses of the order. The possession of large warhorses and knightly armament was not confined to the Christians in the long term, since capture or purchase made it possible for the heathens to overcome this disadvantage to some extent. After the defeat at Tannenberg, the Teutonic Order’s lawyers accused the Poles of having disregarded the old prohibitions on supplying warhorses and knightly weapons to the heathens (as they still called the Lithuanians) and other nonbelievers and of having taught them Christian techniques of warfare. These accusations suggest that by this time the heathen armies were in no way inferior in equipment to those of the Christians. Even if they are regarded as harsh anti-Polish propaganda, they reveal the truth that times had changed and that the opponents of the military orders had made good many of their former deficiencies.

Christian warfare in the Baltic region also adapted to the particular conditions existing there and thus differed significantly from knightly warfare in western Europe. The enslavement of women and children had deep roots in Baltic tradition. The Christian knights took over the Prussian helmet and shield, the light Lithuanian lance, the use of small indigenous horses, and heathen building techniques. Other indications of adaptation to regional and local conditions are the sterilization or castration of warhorses, the “streamlined” equipment of the horsemen, and the relinquishing of horse armor. More than elsewhere warfare was dependent on weather, because of the nature of the wild countryside, with its dense forests, rivers, and swamps. Warfare in winter was therefore common in the Baltic but unusual in western Europe. This feature was undoubtedly an additional exotic enticement for crusaders from the west.

The Crusaders

Among the crusaders who participated in the campaigns of the order in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries were kings, dukes, counts, and many renowned nobles. Werner Paravicini has listed more than 300 expeditions from Livonia and Prussia against Lithuania between 1305 and 1409 [Paravicini, Die PreuBenreisen, 2:20-45].

It was a very expensive undertaking to travel to Livonia or Prussia, and only those with a solid financial background could afford it. Among the most famous expeditions were the crusade of King Ottokar II of Bohemia in 1255, when Konigsberg was founded, and the campaign in the summer of 1390, when the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius was besieged by an army that included Henry Bolingbroke, earl of Derby (the future King Henry IV of England). He brought with him English longbowmen, who proved very effective in fighting.

Very often crusaders from western Europe took part in these martial enterprises not only out of religious devotion and an eagerness to convert heathen peoples but also for other reasons, including desire for adventure, the search for fame and honor, and material advantage: these various motives frequently overlapped. Despite all its harshness and cruelty the crusade was regarded like a kind of chivalric romance: this conception was manifested in the late Middle Ages in the Teutonic Order’s renowned Table of Honor (Ger. Ehrentisch), knightly dubbings, feasts, and hunts during the military campaigns to Lithuania. However, the continuing importance of indulgences in inducing crusaders to risk their lives in the fight against the heathen demonstrates that they were not motivated only by secular concerns.


The Teutonic Order strove to unite its territories in Livonia and Prussia by the conquest and subjection of the western Lithuanian territory of Samogitia, but this strategic goal was never reached. Instead, the Polish-Lithuanian Union of 1385 and the Christianization of Lithuania in 1387 changed the political map of Europe. Two decades later the defeat at Tannenberg in 1410 marked the end of the order’s forays against the “heathens.” Prussia had lost much of its might and influence, and the question now was of the survival of the order’s territories. Instead of carrying out raids, the Teutonic Knights had to defend themselves against enemies both within and beyond their borders. The greatest threat to Prussia came from rebellious towns and nobles and from the Poles; the threat to Livonia came from the Russians. War in the region took on the forms that prevailed in the rest of Europe: mercenaries replaced crusaders, firearms increased in importance, and sieges with artillery became a matter of routine. Crusaders and knightly warfare now belonged to the past.

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