Tag Archives: Middle Ages

Baltic Germans

The Jaunpils  Castle

Typical Baltic German Castle at Jaunpils

In late Medieval ages Holy German Empire became overpopulated. People had trouble finding land and jobs in the cities. In families with more than two children the third son was unable to inherit land from his family. So many Germans had to find a new place to live. The Germans looked to the east. Eastern Europe offered free lands to maintain and local people were poor and in much lower numbers. Also the Eastern European kings needed immigrants from the west to protect their lands from Mongolian invasions. This allowed the Germans to migrate to such places as Transylvania (in present day Romania), Bohemia (Sudetenland, Czech Republic) and other eastern parts. Later on the behalf of empress Katrina II Germans entered Russian lands.

But nobody invited Germans to Baltic lands. In 12-13 century Germans started a military expansion to the east under Crusader banner. Crusades in Latvia have been discussed in many posts before in this blog. Find them using tags or search.

First Germans in Latvia were Crusaders and Church missionaries.  Along with them came German merchants that settled in Riga. When all Latvian land became part of Livonia, more Germans came here. Crusaders became nobles and established castles around Latvia. Others mainly merchants lived in larger cities. In the 13th century there were 15 thousand Germans opposite to 160 thousand ancient Latvians. Also 20 thousand Livonians lived in Latvia. Despite the low numbers Germans were political majority. They held all political rights and titles; they got rights to land and ownership of local peasants. Ancient Latvians were mostly peasants that worked for German landlords for all their life with no rights for their own land. Latvians got little chance for education that would raise their social status. In cities Latvians could only have low rank jobs that were called “shameful jobs”. But Latvia escaped high scale colonization of German peasants. Livonia was hard to reach from Germany because of independent Lithuania and the Baltic Sea. If the Germans would enter Latvia in larger masses than Latvians would put at high risk of assimilation. There are however records of Latvian and Livonian entry into German noble families. One of the most famous Baltic German noble family Fon Lieven is said to originate from Livonians.

During the time of Reformation most Germans supported Martin Luther reforms and became Lutherans. Lutheranism and other protestant movements were highly common among German immigrants in Eastern Europe. Swift to Lutheranism also helped Latvians for the first religious texts were translated into Latvian.

The crush to German nobility was Livonian war that started in 1558. Livonia was at risk of being conquered by Russia. That did not happen thanks to Poland-Lithuania and Sweden, but the Germans had to give up their Crusader order. In 1561 the Livonia order ceased to exist. However Germans managed to keep all their rights because of the favor by Polish king Sigismund Augustus. A document containing promised privileges by Polish king gave wide rights to Germans in Latvia. But this document has not preserved until this day and nobody hasn’t seen it for a long time. Because of this historians speculate that document is falsification. Despite that Germans used this phantom document to protect their rights for many years.

However Poles did not keep all promises. Riga faced trade controls from Polish administration. Poles tried to restore Catholicism by removing few churches and imposing new calendar. This caused Calendar revolt in Riga that lasted from 1584 to 1589 and was defeated with the help of traitors within Germans. But in Duchy of Courland and Semigallia that was autonomous from Poland Germans had time of their lives. Germans ruled the Duchy and had a free hand in politics and religious matters. Their best days ended in 1795 when Duchy was added to Russia.

Germans in Swedish Vidzeme faced hard times when the Swedish administration decided to revise German ownerships and give large portions of land to Swedes. But in Riga Germans were supported because Sweden needed to keep the favor of Riga that got larger population than Stockholm. The Germans build many beautiful trade residences in Latvia like Reitern house and House of Danenstern in Martalu Street.

After Vidzeme capitulated to Russia things changed. One side of Germans led by count Johann Patkul conspired against Sweden to support Russia. However many German nobles were part of Swedish army and captured Patkul and sentenced him to death. But Russia at first did not want to conflict with the Germans. General Sheremtjev signed deal with Germans to allow them autonomy and official use of the German language. Latvians were completely subjected to Germans. Taxes and corve’s were increased. This was the highest point of Latvian enslavement that continued many decades until serfdom was abolished.

Russian emperor Peter I favored German aristocrats. He invited them to his court at Petersburg. The new city itself was built with the help of German engineers. Peter I needed well-educated Germans modernize his new empire.

In the 18th century there were 40 thousand Germans in Latvia. Because of Enlightenment in Western Europe many intellectuals entered Latvia most notably Johan Herder who worked in the Riga Dome School. German scholars started to show interest for Latvian folklore and language. Ernest Glik did tremendous work of translating the Bible in Latvian. Pastor Gothart Stender wrote many educational books in Latvian promoting Latvian education. Favored among Latvian are German scholar Garibl Merkel and his work “Latvians”. In this book he criticizes the Latvian enslavement and praises Latvian culture. This was one of the first times when information about Latvians was shown to the outside world. The work of German educators helped Latvians to get a national identity in future.

In 1766 first and last attempt of German colonization happened in Latvia. By the favour of empress Katrina II 85 Germans from Pfalz settled in Hirchen (Irši) parish near Aizkraukle. All of them were peasants who lived closely in Hirchen village. In 1914 there were a 8000 people who were born in Hirchen.  However only 1570 lived there because others left home to find luck in Riga, Russia or in Western Europe.

Germans living in Latvia often did not call themselves Germans. They identified themselves as Baltic Germans (deutchbalten). In 1817 and 1819 serfdom was abolished in Courland and Vidzeme (but still in Latgalia). German educators put even higher pressure to educate Latvians. They however wanted only elementary education for them. Latvians peasants still were objected to German landlords despite the abolishment of serfdom. That caused rapid Latvian conversion to the Orthodox Church to move away from the Germans. About 40397 Latvians became Orthodox Christians. To stop this leader of liberal German reformists Hamilkar von Felkerzam managed to allow Latvians rent land from the Germans and re-buy it in longer time. This finally allowed Latvians to become farmers.

The Germans got high influence in Russian politics. The Russian army was filled by German high rank officers. The Germans took posts in the Russian government. German academics and scientists pushed Russian progress. Only Noble prize winner from Latvia is German chemist Wilhelm Ostvald. In middle of 19 century 140 thousand Germans lived in Latvia.  They took part in the industrialization and controlled all industrial sectors in Latvia. They were wealthiest social group. But the growing sentiment of Russian nationalism or Slavophilism started to push pressure on the Germans. Russian Czar Alexander II started the process of Russifaction  and Unifaction of Russian Empire. In 1885 Nikolay Manasein revision cancelled the Baltic German autonomy, abolished German courts and made Russian language the official language in state matters. Baltic Germans did not receive any support from German Empire that wanted to keep good relations with Russia. 2000 Baltic Germans emigrated to Germany because of anti-German reforms. However Germans kept their status in industrial and commercial sector. They still worked in state offices because Russians were not eager to work in the Baltic provinces. All Majors of Riga were Germans (except Englishman John Armisted) no Russian ever wanted to lead Riga.

The Germans felt remorse to Latvians who gained more freedom because of Russian reforms. However the wave of Russifaction hit Latvians by prohibiting the Latvian language in schools and public places.  But Latvians were free to form their organizations and speak privately in Latvian. When a wave of revolution hits Latvia in 1905 the Latvian-German conflict sparkled in blood and fire. For the few months Russian administration lost control over Latvian rural areas that were taken by revolutionary committees. Revolutionaries burned 200 German mansions in all Latvia. The Germans formed self defense squads to fight armed social democrats and peasants. When things begun to heat up; Germans asked for Russian help. General Aleksey Orlov led “punishment expeditions” to stop revolution. Punishment battalions killed 1615 revolutionaries.

A new hit for Germans were the start of First World War. The Germans suddenly become haunted minority blamed for all calamities of the war. Russian administration destroyed the prosperous German controlled industry by evacuating all factory equipment to inner Russia. Even tram lines were taken to Russia. Despite this a large part of Germans fought with the Russian army against their brothers in Baltic front.

A new hope for the Germans was Brestlitovsk peace agreement that gave all Baltic lands to Germany. On November 8 1918 Baltic Germans gathered in Riga to proclaim the “Baltic State”. This state should compromise Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and restore all rights for Germans. However in November 11 Germany signed capitulation act and in November  18 Latvia proclaimed its independence. The idea of Baltic State now was obsolete. Germans however did not lose hope for it until 1920. In 1918 Germans supported Latvian government because of growing danger from Soviet Russia. Germans made Landesver an army from Baltic Germans and ex members of the German army to help the Latvian army. With their help the Bolsheviks were pushed away from Riga however Germans quickly turned against Latvians by organizing coup 1919  April 16 in Liepaja. A plan to capture Karlis Ulmanis government failed and Germans formed a puppet government lead by Kārlis Niedra a pro-German pastor. Their plans failed completely when their armed forces were defeated by joint Latvian and Estonian forces near Cesis on June 22. By pressure of the US, England and France a ceasefire was signed and the Germans were forced to recognize the Latvian government. Germans Edvin Magnuss become minister of justice and Robert Erhard became minister of finance. Landesver was taken under Latvian control.

However radical German forces lead by General Ridiger von der Goltz and Russian whiteguard Pavel Bermont- Avalov attacked Riga in November of 1919 but failed once again. By this time more Germans supported Latvia. Paul Schiemann new German leader officially supported Latvian independence. Landesver forces took part in the liberation of Latgalia in 1920 from the Soviets. 54 German soldiers were awarded with the highest Latvian military award the Order of Lachpesis (Bear Slayer).

After the war Germans came to conclusion that they need to integrate in the Latvian politics.  A new party called “Baltic German democratic party” was formed. It was the most successful minority party in Latvia that won 6 seats in every election. Jewish and Russian parties had far lesser results because of their political divisions. A massive blow for German landlords was the Agricultural reform. Latvian government wanted to get rid of German landlords once and for all. 1300 properties of German mansions were confiscated. Noble families lost their mansions and palaces. Another boiling point was a German commemoration of Landesver. In 1929 a Landesver soldiers’ cemetery was established in Riga. A large monument was built. After few weeks monument was destroyed with explosives by unknown people. Resented Germans took all pieces of destroyed monument and connected to one piece.

Despite of deep divide Germans kept the status in industry and commerce. An autonomy in education was kept, a German self funded schools worked in all Latvia. Even the national reforms of Karlis Ulmanis regime could not hinder German place in Latvian economy.

But nothing was so crucial to Germans as the rise of National Socialism. Nazi Germany exported Nazi ideology to Baltic Germans. In 1933 a Nazi organization “Bewegung” (Movement) was established in Riga. Nazi supporters gained success by removing democrat Paul Schiemann from the leadership and excluding other democrats. Nazi leader Erich Krueger had ties with German SS and SD. The Nazi government wanted to make “fifth column” to fulfil their expansionist plans. Nazi movement made bitter danger for Latvia.

After signing non-aggression pact with Soviet Union it became clear to Hitler that once Latvia would be taken by the Soviets, the Baltic Germans will be oppressed by them. So he issued call to Baltic Germans to return to their ethnic homeland. Not all Germans in Latvia wanted to move. The majority however feared the coming Soviet occupation and used this chance to escape. In 1939.-1940 51 thousand Baltic Germans left Latvia. Only 11 thousand Germans stayed. After Soviet Occupation 10500 still remained. Those who moved to Germany however could not live in Germany itself but were moved to Nazi occupied Poland. There they met tragic fates in 1944-1945.

In 1989 by Soviet Census there were 3789 people calling them Germans. A large part of them came from mainland Russia. Only 944 were born in Latvia. 49% of Latvian Germans spoke only in Russian. After regaining of independence Germans organized new organizations, but there is a divide between German-speaking Germans and Russian speaking Germans. By the dates of 2007 there are 4226 Germans in Latvia. Some Germans from Germany move to Latvia to find jobs or move here because they married with Latvians. The last census in 2011 gathered 3042 Germans now living in Latvia.

German culture in Latvia has been destroyed by two-world wars. But the German presence can be seen in many places in Latvia. The buildings in Riga, mansions in rural areas. Latvian language and music have been influenced by the Germans. Latvians despite the conflicts own a lot of Germans and German factor will always have a place in Latvian history.

Selected Sources:

Krupņikovs, Pēteris. (1980). Melu un patiesības palete. Riga: Zvaigzne 1980.

Duhanovs, Maksims. (1986). Baltijas muižniecība laikmetu maiņā : Baltijas muižniecības politika 19.gs. 50.-70.gados un tās apoloģētiskās historiogrāfijas kritika. Riga: Zinātne.

Dribins, Leo, Spārītis Ojārs. (2000) Vācieši Latvijā. Riga: Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts. Etnisko pētījumu centrs.

Dribins, Leo (Ed.) (2007) Mazākumtautības Latvijā : vēsture un tagadne. Rīga : Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts, 2007.

Pistohlkors, Gert, Von. (Ed.) Deutsche Geschichte im Osten Europas: Baltische Länder, Vol 4.Berlin: Seidler Verlag.

Cerūzis, Raimonds (2004). Vācu faktors Latvijā (1918-1939) : politiskie un starpnacionālie aspekti = German factor in Latvia (1918-1939) : political and inter-ethnic aspects. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

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Latvia and the Hanseatic League

Map of Hanza member cities and trade routes

In Ancient times the main traders in Europe were Romans. They maintained a sharp system of trade routes across their empire. Rome was filled with goods from East and West. After the breakdown of Roman Empire during the so-called “Dark Ages” full-scale trading in Europe was halted. During this time the masters of trade were Byzantines, Arabs, Persians and Chinese.  However when European medieval states started to grow stronger, European traders again begun to compete with their eastern rivals.

Before exploring the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, Europeans sailed three main seas- the North Sea, Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean sea. The Mediterranean Sea was an old trade route. In Ancient times it was the “Greek frog pond“, then it was fully owned by the Romans.  The heirs of Romans were Italian sailors, the Genoa and Venice were the main centers for trade. Constantinople was also important until it was taken by the Turks. North and Baltic seas were less known to Greeks and Romans, few of their sources describes them, there even was expeditions made by Greeks and Romans. But since the shores of these seas were inhabited by less-civilized peoples they did not find them so tempting. So it was the British, Scandinavians and Germans who will make those seas a proper trade route.

One of the first German ports was   Lübeck. It was founded by Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony. Based on good position the city in the 13th century became a base for merchants from Saxony and Westphalia. The word Hansa came from intention to form special guilds to trade with other cities.   Lübeck was especially interested in Baltic region where resources such as timber, wax, amber, furs, etc. came from. Rye and wheat were also important. Also the trade ships were important for the Crusades because ships were used to transport troops to conflict ground.

The Holsten gate of Lubeck

Lübeck and Hamburg made alliance in 1241 marking the start of the Hanse. It was based on cooperation between the cities and guilds to ease up trading and gain profit. Hanse was joined by Cologne and London. The main center of the alliance was Lübeck, it was Imperial Free city which meant that it has vast possibilities than other German cities.  The administration was Hansa Diet founded the 1356.

Because Russia was the important trade source, Hansa moved to the east. Livonian cities, Riga, Venstpils, Cesis, Valmiera, Kuldiga, Limbaži and Straupe became the part of the Hansa.  Ventspils was important port in Courland; ships could sail across river Venta to Kuldiga. Ventspils never lost its port’s importance as now it’s a main rival to the port of Riga. Kuldiga in other hand is no more used for ships.

The port of Ventspils

Riga as the biggest city was center for stock of all trade sources. Many Guilds worked there and it was the main trade spot in Livonia only to be countered by Tallinn ( Reval). From Riga ships sailed to Koknese and from there the route ended in Smolensk, Vitebsk and Polotsk.

The port of Riga

The last trade route from Riga to Tallin (Reval) across the river Gauja was mostly on land and headed to Novgorod and Pskov. In Russian towns Hansa had kontors- trade offices.

The 14th century was “Golden age” for Hansa. It took the monopoly on trading in the Northern seas. Hansa was so powerful that it could even wage war on a sovereign country- Denmark.  Destroying their fleet and sacking their cities Hansa used force to get full control over Scandinavia. However at the end of the century Hansa lost the war to Dutch rival merchants and the Hansa monopoly was broken.

15th century is called the “Autumn of Medieval ages”. The economic crisis did not spare Hansa. As Crusader knight regimes was defeated and Novgorod was annexed by Russian Tzar Ivan III. The cities  begun to rival with each other. Danzig (Gdansk) started to gain much more from Poland and became much larger than Lübeck. The Polish government tried to take over Danzig, but were repulsed. But the Dutch sailors became even more dangerous for Hansa, as they aggressively competed with Hanse. They succeeded making Hansa more and more weaker.

In the 16th century Hansa was no longer a key player. Swedish Empire was more powerful. Russia was no longer in trade business and because of centralization the cities no longer were so independent. Hansa could not make trade route to newly explored New World. The last formal meeting between the cities were held in 1699. The cities of Livonia did not take any part in them long before.

However the power of Hansa has not faded from historical memory. The word Hansa is used in the names of ships, companies (Lufthansa), the Swedish bank Swedbank was called Hansabank in Latvia for many years. There is even a PC Game The Rise of Hansa where Riga is also included (however pretty badly as it is shown as Russian town wit Orthodox cathedrals). Hansa is the symbol for the most active member towns, such as Riga. Riga is proud to be a former member of the Hanseatic League.

The logo of Hansa bakery.

Selected Sources

Hammel-Kiesow, Rolf. (2000) Die Hanse. München: C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung.

Hanno Brand (ed.) (2007) The German Hanse in past & present Europe : a medieval League as a model for modern interregional cooperation? Groningen : Hanse Passage/Castel International Publ.

 

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Medieval Money in Latvia

Field of science researching coins and banknotes is called Numismatics. Coins are a great source from you can research the financial and monetary system in the past. Coins are also good to explore the state symbols and personalities, for the coin often depicts state prominences and symbols.

Before the introduce of coin, prehistoric people  used barter to exchange various things. Barter was used in many prehistoric societies. When civilizations got more complicated they required a more stable way of exchange.  In Baltic lands, the most valuable piece of trade was amber. Amber is fossilized   tree resin. It originates from deep pre-human times and can only be found on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Most amber is found in Lithuania and Kaliningrad Oblast Russia and on the shores at Courland, Latvia. Ancient Greeks and Romans found amber very beautiful and useful for jewelry. Ancient Greek scientists found that amber can make electricity.  First signs of amber trade were found Middle Neolithic Stone Age. At the swamp village of Sārnate locals built amber manufacture. They exchanged amber for flint and shale work tools.

Amber

In Bronze Age early Latvians already maintained both stockraising and farming economy and craftsmanship. Now locals exchanged cattle, animal fur, amber to bronze casting and bronze tools. First deposits date from this time.

The first coins in Latvia come from Roman Empire. Roman historian Tacitus in his Germania, writes that local Baltic tribes Aesti (probably Balts) receives a money reward with wonder for their amber. It’s probably because local Balts did not know what to do with coin money; they viewed it as just as some pieces of metal. Despite that they kept and made deposits and took them in their graves, believing it could be valuable in the afterlife.  The main Roman value was Libra (pound). After the fall of the Roman Empire and the chaos in Europe Latvia did not receive any coins until 8th century. The main currency was silver which came from Russia and Scandinavia.

At the 9th century Latvia received a large amount of Arab Dirhams. Arabian Caliphate was the main power in that time and it traded with Kievan Russ and the Dirhams came to Latvia on their way to Scandinavia. The museums in Moscow, Stockholm and Tallinn holds much more Dirhams than Eastern European museums. On the island of Gotland 40 000 Dirhams has  been found. In Latvia there has been 2 343 Dirhams located. Only 24 exemplars of Byzantine Empire currency silver miliaries were found in Latvia.

In 10th century first Western European coins arrived on Latvian land. Silver Denars from Germany, Denmark, Moravia and Hungary. In Western Europe main silver mines were located in Germany and England.  There were many types of coins because the rights of coin forging were for not only Kaisers, but also for dukes, counts and bishops. At 11th century the monetary crisis again made “no coin” period in Latvia. The main currency was silver bars. At this time the most deposits were found.

At 13 century when the age of Crusades emerged the new power re-established coins in Latvia. The new Livonian Confederation issued a Gotlandic currency the Marc of Riga (marca Rigensis).  From the middle of the 13th century the main coins were one-sided Pheninngs. On coins were depicted the keys of Riga and crossed swords.

Because of the inner political crisis in 14 century the coin forging was temporally stopped.  When restarted the new currency was Lübeck Pfennigs. Lübeck was the center of the Hanseatic League, and Livonian cities were part of it. In 1422-1426 monetary reform came into effect and Livonian Monetary Union started its work.

Currencies in Livonia were many. 1 Marc was 4 Verdins or 36. Shillings. Sometimes in Livonia silver Dalders and golden Ducats.

Verding

Phening issued by Bishop Albert

The monetary freedom of Livonia were canceled after the fall of Livonian Confederation. New powers, Poles, Swedes and Russians issued new currencies. It will be discused in future.

Selected Sources

Ducmane, Kristīne. (2004). Nauda : enciklopēdija par savu un svešu naudu Latvijā no seniem laikiem līdz mūsdienām. Riga : Zvaigzne ABC.

Ducmane, Kristīne and Veciņš, Ēvalds.(1995) Nauda Latvijā. Riga. Latvijas Banka.

Paiders, Juris. (2002)  Arābu laiki Latvijā. Riga. Zvaigzne ABC.

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Sacral Architecture of Medieval Riga

New Catholic Christian German government along with castles and fortifications built many churches to establish their power. Many them still remain in Riga and serves as the monuments of history. Some of the churches are important outside Europe for the church of Saint Peter was tallest tower in Europe for some time.

In old Medieval Riga which today is known as the Old Riga there were eight churches. First versions of these churches were built from wood so we don’t know how they looked like. All churches have many different building stages, so they don’t look monolith, for building time was long and plans changed many times.

First church of Riga was the Dome Cathedral. It was started in 1215. It was finished at 1300. in Romanesque style and Gothic style. Although it has no dome it was called Dome cathedral because Latvian and German name Doms meant cathedral.  Dome Cathedral was Catholic church until 16. century when in the event of Reformation it was given to Lutheran church. Cathedral interior got many Baroque and Classicism style upgrades during the years and today Cathedral is compilation of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Classicism.  In 20. century late thirties around the Cathedral government ordered to remove block of buildings to create new square. The square was called in honor of 1934. 15. May when Karlis Ulmanis came to power. In result the cathedral got its own square which its now called as the Dome square. Square is home to many festivities during the summer, it often serves as the place for political rallies. In summer its best place where to enjoy Latvian beer. One the notable cathedral landmarks are enormous pipe organs built in 1884. and were the largest pipe organs in the world at that time. Organs still works today. Cathedral is also used for academic concerts. During the 1991. January barricade movement cathedral was used as hospital.

Dome Catherdral from old postcard

The Large organs of Dome Cathedral

Near the Latvian Parliament there is church of Saint James. Church was first mentioned in 1225.  It was built in Gothic style. After the Reformation church became a Catholic Cathedral and the main center for Latvian Catholic church.

The tower of St. James church

St. Peters Church

St. Peters church was built as merchant church and first mentioned 1216. The church was built in large size and most largest component was its tower. But the tower was destroyed many times. In 1721. the tower was struck by lightning and caught fire. In rescue works Peter I The Great, Emperor of Russia  helped to extinguish burning tower. He was at Riga at the following moment.  In 1941. the tower was again bought down by German artillery shells. Tower was used as observing post for Soviets and was destroyed by Germans. But Germans themselves blamed Jews for the calamity and used this to justify the Holocaust. Church was in ruins for many years until in 1973. it was restored. In 2009. the Church Golden Rooster was bought down for repair works. It was done by skilled Alpinist’s.   Today tower is 123 meters high and is used as tourist attraction. From 70 meters tourists can view Riga from above.

The church of St. John is small beautiful with Gothic look and fine stained glass paintings.

The church St. John

In the Modern age near the old Medieval churches new ones were built. Church of Reformates  was built in 1732. Near the Dome Cathedral in 1785. the Church Our Lady of Suffering a fine Catholic church with magnificent interior. The most recent church is Anglican Church built in 1858. The Church has became notorious for fundamental Christians and homophobes, because the Church leaders openly supports same-sex marriages here.

The three tall towers of Riga Churches made essential Riga landmark. From opposite side of Daugava you can see these three churches as they dominate Riga skyline.

Modern era engraving showing all three Riga Church towers

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The Medieval Riga

Rigas zimog 1226

The Seal of Riga in 1226

Riga was founded in 1201 when Bishop Albert settled there. Before him there were native villages inhabited by Livonians and Latgallians. And there was a settlement of the German Merchants who chose this place as their trading base. Bishop Albert chose this site as the base of operations for his Crusader campaign. Riga had a crucial role in the Crusades. From Riga Crusader armies marched at all directions in Latvian lands, conquering Courland, Semigallia, Latgallia, Selonia and Vidzeme. Native armies tried to capture the strong-point, but all failed and Riga withstood as the main Crusader capitol. Since then Riga located at middle of Latvia has become as the main center of Latvia. It’s been called the “water-head”” of Latvia since Riga has all services for workers, and all national administration is located there. Other smaller towns except Daugavpils or Liepaja could not offer what Riga has, so in the past decades Riga has been inhabited in large masses by country people.

The beginnings of Riga where at the right side of the river Daugava, where distributary of Riga Speķupe (The Ham River), blocked at Kube hills took the circle to Daugava. This distributary was called Riga or Rīdziņa. Near the entry in river Daugava, river Riga made extension called the Lake of Riga. There was the first port of Riga. Another distributary of Daugava near Riga is Sarkandaugava (Red Daugava), or the Punishment Ditch.

Near Riga there are three big entries of rivers Daugava, Lielupe and Gauja. Near Riga there are some large lakes like lake of Babīte, lake Ķīšezers, lake of Jugla.

During the springtime floods Riga was endangered, because the entry of river Daugava was full of sand reefs and Riga was located at just 4 meters above the sea level.  Many disastrous floods had been recorded in 1363, 1562, 1578 and 1590. In 16 century river Daugava changed its entry in Vecāķi but then in 17th century it broke the dune walls and found the straightest way to sea. River Riga also had trouble; it slowly became contaminated by city garbage and the buildings of dams in order to prevent floods which closed the water flow from Speķupe to river Riga. Because of the wall building river Riga was completely closed from Speķupe and became as standing water reservoir.  Since it was polluted it was levelled in 18.-19 century and today where river Riga once flow there is streets and buildings.

Based on this all Riga had ideal position for trade, administration and it was the main key of the Baltic Region. It never lost its strategic importance at all times.

First years of Riga were turbulent for it was many times attacked by native forces. Most dangerous were attacked by Curonians from the sea in 1210.  But all attacks were repulsed and Riga was the main base of operations for the Crusaders. In 1221 Riga was almost taken by the Danes when Bishop Albert was forced to become vassal of Danish King Waldemar II. But that was met by heavy resistance from local citizens who did not allow Danish kings envoy Gotshalk to enter Riga. But in 1223 Waldemar II was held captive by vassal and Denmark lost its concessions in Baltic lands.

After that the main civil government of Riga became the Town Council or rāte. The town Council consisted of 12 consuls or Town Councilors, later the number added to the 20 Town Councilors. Town Council existed until 19 century eighties when it was reformed by the Russian Imperial Administration.   Town Council was elected by Town Assembly, but in 13 century the Town Council elected themselves and Town Assembly was used for decorative purposes.   The four main Town Councilors where Burgomasters one of them where Higher Burgomaster who run the Town Council. He was something like Major of Riga these days.

The town Council managed all aspects of Riga, the ruling, organizing, and justice as well as commanding of the armed forces. In 1226 Riga got first Coat of Arms. Walls, gates and two towers symbolized the stability of the city, but keys of St. Peter meant that the town is in the protection of Curry of Rome, and Cross in the middle showed that the town is under the Bishop’s official rule. Coat of Arms changed many times due to the changing powers that ruled the town.

Town Council had a constant struggle with two seniors the Bishop and the Order.  Bishop and Order were in struggle themselves too, the war between then affected Riga. In 1297 the constant tension evolved into full scale conflict- it started as a dispute over a bridge over Daugava, which were made to build dams. Order demolished the bridge to let some of their ships pass. This caused the conflict which made half of Riga burn to ashes and Order’s castle was captured by locals. The castle was destroyed, but the Order was far from giving up. Order prevented the counter coalition of Bishoprics of Riga, Dorpat and Ōsel-Weik capturing Archbishop of   Riga and started the blockade of Riga. Riga was forced to sign alliance with pagan Lithuania. First alliance was successful; the castle near Cesis the Windmill of Bethold was destroyed. But then near Bukulti Order received reinforcements from Prussia and crushed the Riga-Lithuanian army. At the end the Hanseatic League forced to sign a peace agreement. The consensus was acquired by the Archbishop of Lund on 1304 March 21. The order must have its lost possessions back, the wall must be built to separate Order’s castle and Riga, the Order could not make new fortifications, the town could build the bridge over river Riga, but cannot disrupt the Order’s sea vessel movement, and both sides must not disrupt each others trading. Order bought the Daugavgriva monastery and turned into a fortress. That was vital gain for the Order.

Order gained victory, but did bother to note peace terms. They confiscated Riga trade ships and attacked the traders. Riga tried to gain Lithuanian help, complained to Rome, but nothing worked. The war erupted again in 1316 and the fortress of Daugavgriva was under siege.   But Order outmatched again by paying large sums of money to the Pope and Daugavgriva was declared as “eternal possession of Order”. In 1328 war again gained its height as the Daugavgriva was attacked again.  Lithuania was asked for help and they came, but Order captured the four Archbishops castles in advance and gained support from Prussia. In 1329  the siege of Riga had begun. It lasted a half of the year. 1330 March 20 Riga was forced to surrender. To humiliate the defenders of Riga, they were ordered to cut a hole into the city wall so the knights of the Order can go through there besides the main gate. Now Order had gained full control of Riga and the city became the town of Order. The Coat of Arms changed adding Crusaders Cross and Lion into gate of Riga.

Rigas_gerb_RDkrusteja

The Seal of Riga after victory of Livonian Order

Riga grew rapidly despite the wars. The stories of most significant Medieval foundations in Riga will follow in future posts.

Selected Sources

Zeids, Teodors (Ed.) (1978). Feodālā Rīga. Riga: Latvijas PSR Zinātņu akadēmija. Vēstures institūts.

Šterns, Indriķis. (1997) Latvijas vēsture, 1290-1500. Riga: Daugava

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