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.


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