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The Livonian Crusade refers to the Germanmarker and Danishmarker conquest and colonization of medieval Livoniamarker, the territory constituting modern Latviamarker and Estoniamarker, during the Northern Crusades. The lands on the eastern shores of the Baltic Seamarker were the last corners of Europe to be Christianized.

On 2 February 1207 in the territories conquered an ecclesiastical state called Terra Marianamarker was establish as a principality of the Holy Roman Empire and proclaimed by pope Innocent III in 1215 as a subject to the Holy See.

After the success of the crusade, the German- and Danish-occupied territory was divided into six feudal principalities by William of Modena.

History of war

War against Livs and Latgalians (1198–1209)

Christianity had come to Latvia with the Swedes in the 9th century and Danes in the 11th. By the time German traders began to arrive in the second half of the 12th century to trade along the ancient Daugava-Dnieper route to Byzantium, many Latvians had already been baptized. Meinhard of Segeberg arrived in Livland, as it was named in German, in 1184 with the mission to convert the pagan Livonians, Meinhard being consecrated as bishop in 1186.

The indigenous Livonians (Livs), who had been paying tribute to the East Slavic Principality of Polotsk and were often under attack by southern neighbours Semigallians at first considered the Low Germans (Saxons) as useful allies. The first prominent Livonian to be converted was their leader Caupo of Turaida, baptized around 1189.

Pope Celestine III called for a crusade against pagans in Northern Europe in 1193. When peaceful means of conversion failed to produce results, the impatient Meinhard plotted to convert the Livonians forcibly but was thwarted. He died in 1196, having failed his mission. Two years later, his appointed replacement, bishop Berthold of Hanover, arrived with a large contingent of crusaders in 1198. Shortly after his arrival, Berthold rode ahead of his troops in battle, was surrounded and killed, his forces defeated.

Pope Innocent III issued a bull declaring a crusade against the Livonians to avenge Berthold's defeat. Albrecht von Buxthoeven was consecrated as bishop in 1199 and arrived with a large force in 1200, establishing Riga as the seat of his bishopric in 1201. Bishop Albert established the Livonian Brothers of the Sword in 1202 to aid in the conversion of the pagans to Christianity and, more importantly, protect German trade and secure German control over commerce.

As the German grip tightened, the Livonians and their christened chief rebelled against the crusaders. Caupo's forces were defeated at Turaida in 1206, and the Livonians declared to be converted. Caupo subsequently remained an ally of the crusaders until his death in the Battle of St. Matthew's Day in 1217.

By 1208 important Daugava trade posts of Salaspilsmarker (Holme), Koknesemarker (Kokenhusen) and Sēlpilsmarker (Selburg) had been taken over as a result of campaigns led by Albert. In the same year rulers of Latgalian counties Tālava, Satekle and Autine established military alliance with the Order. The Order started the construction of Cēsismarker (Wenden) castle. Albert ordered the construction of a stone castle in Koknesemarker where the Daugava and Pērse rivers meet to replace the wooden castle of the Latgalians. In 1209 Albert, leading the forces of the Order, captured capital of Latgalian principality Jersika and took the ruler's Visvaldis wife captive. Visvaldis was forced to submit his kingdom to Albert as a grant to the Archbishopric of Riga, and received back only a portion of it as a fief. Tālava was weakened in wars with Estonians and Russians. In 1214 it became vassal state of Archbishopric of Riga and in 1224 was finally divided between Archbishopric and the Order.

War against Estonians (1208–1227)

At the same time the Crusaders were strong enough to begin operations against the Estonians, who were at that time divided into eight major and seven smaller Counties, which were led by elders with limited co-operation between each other. With the help of the newly converted local tribes of Livs and Latgalians in 1208, the crusaders initiated raids into Sakala and Ugaunia in Southern Estonia. The Estonian tribes fiercely resisted the attacks from Riga and occasionally sacked territories controlled by the crusaders. In 1208–27, war parties of the different sides rampaged through Livonia, Latgalia, and different Estonian counties, with the Livs, Latgalians and Russians from the Republic of Novgorod as varying allies of the crusaders and Estonians. Hill forts, which were the key centers of Estonian counties, were besieged and captured a number of times. A truce between the war-weary sides was established for three years (1213–1215). It proved generally more favourable to the Germans, who consolidated their political position, while the Estonians were unable to develop their system of loose alliances into a centralised state. They were led by Lembitu of Lehola, the elder of Sackalia, whose name had come to the attention of German chroniclers as a notable Estonian elder and the central figure of the Estonian resistance by 1211. The Livonian leader Caupo was killed in the Battle of St. Matthew's Day near Viljandi marker on September 21, 1217, but the battle was a crushing defeat for the Estonians, whose leader Lembitu was also killed.

The Christian kingdoms of Denmarkmarker and Swedenmarker were also eager for expansion on the eastern shores of the Baltic. In 1218 Albert asked King Valdemar II of Denmark for assistance, but Valdemar instead arranged a deal with the Order. The king was victorious in the Battle of Lyndanissemarker in Revelia in 1219, in which the origin of the Dannebrog is attributed. He subsequently founded the fortress Castrum Danorummarker, which was unsuccessfully besieged by the Estonians in 1220 and 1223. King John I of Sweden tried to establish a Swedishmarker presence in the province of Wiek, but the Swedish troops were defeated by the Oeselians in the Battle of Lihulamarker in 1220. Revelia, Harrien, and Vironia, the whole of northern Estonia, fell to Danish control.

In 1223, the Novgorod Republic enfeoffed Vyachko with Tharbatamarker stating this as a Russian town (Yuryev) since Yaroslav's conquest in 1030. He assumed the stronghold and launched several raids in Estonia. Early in 1224 Emperor Frederick II announced at Cataniamarker that Livonia, Prussia with Sambiamarker and a number of neighboring provinces were reichsfrei, that is, subordinate directly to the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire only, as opposed to being under the jurisdiction of local rulers. In response, Albert of Riga besieged Tharbata in 1224 with a large force and offered a peace settlement. Vyachko refused to surrender, however, choosing to die with all of his supporters when the Livonian Order stormed the fortress. At the end of 1224 Pope Honorius III announced to all Christendom the appointment of Bishop William of Modena as papal legate for Livonia, Prussia, and other countries.

In 1224 the Order of the Swordbrothers established their headquarters at Fellin marker in Sackalia, where the walls of the Master's castle are still standing. Other strongholds included Wenden marker, Segewold marker, and Ascheraden marker.The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia, one of the greatest medieval narratives, was written probably as a report for William of Modena, giving him the history of the Church in Livonia up to his time. It relates how in 1226, in the stronghold Tarwanpemarker, William of Modena successfully mediated a peace between the Germans, the Danes and the Vironians.

Conquest of Saaremaa

The last Estonian county to hold out against the invaders was the island country of Saaremaa marker, whose war fleets had raided Denmark and Sweden during the years of fighting against the German crusaders.

In 1206, the Danish army led by king Valdemar II and Andreas, the Bishop of Lund landed on Saaremaa and attempted to establish a stronghold without success. In 1216 the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and the bishop Theodorich joined forces and invaded Saaremaa over the frozen sea. In return the Osilians raided the territories in Latvia that were under German rule the following spring. In 1220, the Swedish army led by king John I of Sweden and the bishop Karl of Linköping conquered Lihulamarker in Rotalia in Western Estonia. Osellians attacked the Swedish stronghold the same year, conquered it and killed the entire Swedish garrison including the Bishop of Linköping.

In 1222, the Danish king Valdemar II attempted the second conquest of Saaremaa, this time establishing a stone fortress housing a strong garrison. The Danish stronghold was besieged and surrendered within five days, the Danish garrison returned to Revel, leaving bishop Albert of Riga's brother Theodoric, and few others, behind as hostages for peace. The castle was leveled to the ground by Oeselians.

In 1227, the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, the town of Rigamarker and the Bishop of Riga organized combined attack against Saaremaa. After the surrender of 2 major Oeselian strongholds, Muhumarker and Valjalamarker, the Oeselians formally accepted Christianity.

In 1236, after the defeat of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword in the Battle of Saule, military action on Saaremaa broke out again.

Oeselians accepted Christianity again by signing treaties with the Livonian Order's Master Andreas de Velven and the Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek in 1241. The next treaty was signed in 1255 by the Master of the Order, Anno Sangerhausenn, and, on behalf of the Oeselians, by elders whose "names" (or declaration?) had been phonetically transcribed by Latin scribes as Ylle, Culle, Enu, Muntelene, Tappete, Yalde, Melete, and Cake The treaty granted several additional rights to the Osilians. The 1255 treaty included clauses concerning the ownership and inheritance of land, the social system and religious rules.

In 1261, warfare continued as the Oeselians had again renounced Christianity and killed all the Germans on the island. A peace treaty was signed after the united forces of the Livonian Order, the Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek, the forces of Danish Estoniamarker including mainland Estonians and Latvians defeated the Osilians by conquering the Kaarma stronghold. Soon thereafter, the Livonian Order established a stone fort at Pöidemarker.

On July 24, 1343, the Oeselians killed all the Germans on the island, drowned all the clerics and started to besiege the Livonian Order's castle at Pöide. After the surrender the Osilians levelled the castle and killed all the defenders. In February 1344, Burchard von Dreileben led a campaign over the frozen sea to Saaremaa. The Osilians' stronghold was conquered and their leader Vesse was hanged. In the early spring of 1345, the next campaign of the Livonian Order took place that ended with a treaty mentioned in the Chronicle of Hermann von Wartberge and the Novgorod First Chronicle. Saaremaa remained the vassal of the master of the Livonian Order, and the Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek until 1559.

Wars against Curonians and Semigallians (1219–1290)

Following the defeat of the Estonians, the crusade moved against the Curonians (1242–1267) and Semigallians (1219–1290), Baltic tribes living to the south and west of the Daugava river and closely allied with the Samogitians.

After the defeat in the Battle of Saule by Samogitians and Semigallians the remnants of Swordbrothers were reorganised in 1237 as a subdivision of the Teutonic Order and became known as the Livonian Order. The Battle of Durbe was another victory of Samogitians and allied Curonians over the united forces of Livonian and Teutonic Orders in 1260. Crusaders finally overpowered the Curonians in 1267, and despite of severe defeat in the Battle of Garoza in 1287, subsequently the Semigallians in 1290. The unconquered southern parts of their territories (Sidrabe, Rakte, Ceklis, Megava etc.) were united under the rule of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.


After the conquest, all remaining local pagans were ostensibly Christianized although no Christian literature or church services became available in native languages until the Protestant Reformation period in the 16th century.

The land was divided into six feodal principalities by Papal Legate William of Modena: Archbishopric of Riga, Bishopric of Courland, Bishopric of Dorpatmarker, Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek, the lands ruled by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and Dominum directum of King of Denmark, the Duchy of Estonia

In 1227 the Swordbrothers conquered all Danish territories in Northern Estonia. After the Battle of Saule the surviving members of the Swordbrothers merged into the Teutonic Order of Prussia in 1237 and became known as Livonian Order. On June 7, 1238 by the Treaty of Stensby the Teutonic knights returned the Duchy of Estonia to Valdemar II, until in 1346, after St. George's Night Uprising, the lands were sold back to the order and became part of the Ordenstaatmarker.


See also

External links


  1. The Baltic Crusade By William L. Urban; p 113–114 ISBN 0929700104
  2. Liv-, est- und kurländisches Urkundenbuch: Nebst Regesten

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