Tag Archives: Modern 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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The Great Northern War 1700-1721

Peter I was main curator of Russian success in the Great Northern War

During the Modern ages the Latvian land was hit by three large international wars.  The Livonian war , Swedish-Polish war and the Great Northern War. All three wars were fought between rival empires in the Baltic region. The Livonian war made Poland-Lithuania as the main power in the Baltic region. Also Sweden took first steps to empower their dominance in the Baltic Sea. Russia did not gain anything, despite the fact that they started the war in the first place. Swedish-Polish war weakened Polish position in the region making Sweden the main player in the Baltic Sea. For 80 years Baltic Sea became “Swedish lake” because Swedes took power over many important Baltic ports. Swedish dominance was watched with envy from Poles but even more envious were rulers of Russia.

17-18 century was time of empire and absolutism. Kings of France, Austria, Spain and others took all power in matters of the state. The old feudal system was replaced by mercantile economy and colonization. European powers who in the past were less advanced than China started a wave of modernization that made them key players in the world scale. Europe became the center of the world. However at this time, Russia was still underdeveloped and far behind from other European rivals. Russia became united country under brutal rule of Czar Ivan IV Terrible who removed Mongols from power and started to interfere in European politics. However Ivan IV left no successor and Russia was thrown into civil war and attacked by the Poles.  Time of 1589-1613 was known as the Time of Troubles. In the end Russians managed to push away Polish invaders and elected Michael Romanov as Czar. He was succeeded by Alexis who first challenged Sweden in 1656. His army captured Dorpat (Tartu) but lost numerous battles near Riga and in 1658 was forced to give up. This showed that Russia needs strong modernization and political reform to equally rival the European powers.

Nothing much was done until new Russian Czar Peter I took power in 1682. Peter was a strong man with ambitions and will for knowledge.   He was crowned at age of ten years. His first year of title was colored in blood because of the inner family rivalries between ex wife’s of Alexis that resulted Strelsty uprising. Peter witnessed the bloody events and that left a deep scar in his personality. He was forced to wait many years for his full rights for power. At this time he got interested in ship building, army commanding and other military activities. In 1696 Peter I officially became the sole ruler of Russia.

Sweden in 1617 gained lands around Ladoga Lake that stripped Russia completely from the Baltic Sea. Peter I was obsessed with “carving a window to Europe”. The window was the shores of the Baltic Sea. Peter organized alliance against Sweden and succeeded by allying with Denmark and Saxony. In 1700 all three sides declared war on Sweden.

War first came to Latvian land when the Saxon army attacked Riga in February 1700.  Saxons attempted to capture Riga using disguise. At this time Riga was celebrating the Faslam celebration. Saxons hoped to disguise as peasants and enter Riga when its guards were at lowest attention. However they were discovered by Swedish patrol and alarm was raised. Then the Saxons attempted to cross the river Daugava and block the city. Finnish soldiers held the fortress of Dünamunde (Daugavgrīva) and inflicted heavy casualties on Saxons but were forced to surrender at the end. But the Saxons were too weak to make direct capture attempt on Riga and started a siege. Saxons lacked heavy artillery so the siege was hopeless.  In March Swedish king Carl XII ordered to send forces to Riga. A Swedish army came in March but did nothing despite the fact that their army was larger than the Saxons. In September Russians sent few formations to Riga but nothing happened. Then the Saxons decided to quit the blockade and return to Koknese. In November 19-30 Sweden defeated Russians in Battle of Narva. That was a heavy blow to Peter I but he was not ready to quit.

A Swedish army crosses the River Daugava to attack Saxons at Spilve

In 1701 Saxons again headed to Riga. A Swedish army prepared Riga for a coming battle very well. Carl XII was about to enter Riga himself to command the battle. His army arrived in June. He ordered to make landing boats to move troops and cannons across Daugava. When the king learned that strong wind has turned to the north, he ordered to send boats filled with humid burning straws and hemps in front of his landing force, to weaken visibility for the Saxons. In noun of June 9 Swedes crossed river Daugava and attacked the Saxons in grasslands of Spilve. In two hours Saxon army was split in half and was forced to retreat. About 400 Russian troops remained encircled in island of Lucavsala and fought for their lives two more days. Saxony was out of the game so Carl XII now decided to get down with Poland (king of Saxony Augstus Strong was also king of Poland) and then with Russia.

Russian army in 1701-1702 started to gain first victories in Estonian lands and in Vidzeme. The Russian army under command of Sheremetev destroyed Vidzeme. Russian army burned villages, churches and looted everything. People were captured and sold as slaves in Russian markets. Old people and children were killed and burned alive. Russian Feldmarchal Sheremetev reported to Peter I “Almighty God and Our Lady has fulfilled your wish. There is nothing to destroy in enemy land anymore. From Pskov to Dorpat, down by River Veliky, across the Lake Peipus to mouth of river Narva, across Dorpat and from Riga to Valka, everything has been destroyed. Castles have been blown up. Nothing has been saved except Pernau and Revel and some mansions near the seaside.  Everything from Revel to Riga has been cut out. Inhabited places are only found on the maps for now.”   Russians deported 12 000 people from their homes. Even more deadly was a Black Death epidemic that took the lives of 60% rural citizens.   Vidzeme and Courland was torn apart for many decades.

A Swedish army took too much time in Poland and in the depth of Russia. Peters I army grew stronger and confident and finally in 1709 Swedish army was destroyed in the Battle of Poltava. This marked end for Baltic provinces. Sheremetev’s forces marched to Riga. In October the hostilities started. Peter I himself came to Riga and ordered to siege. Riga was under heavy bombardment. Not only that – the explosion in Riga fortress caused heavy damage. In January 1710 encircled city lacked reserves of food and fuel. People died from starvation and frost. City streets were filled with bodies. The Siege continued until June because Russians themselves suffered from food shortages and heavy cold. The Russians decided to flat-out Riga and force it to surrender. In June 29 defenders of Riga finally decided to surrender. In July 10 last 5132 Swedish men most of them sick left Riga. In  July 14 Sheremetev entered Riga and received the keys of Riga. Fortress of Dünamunde resisted until August 8.

The war officially continued until 1721. But in Latvia it was all but over. Vidzeme and Riga were added to the Russian Empire. Peter I established a new capital in the territory that belonged to Swedes. It was named Petersburg. Peter I fulfilled his dream of making Russian empire and made Russia the global player in the  Earth. That was done by inflicting massive casualties on people of Estonia and Latvia. The Great Northern War was the most destructive wars in history of the Latvian nation. Only Second World War was more catastrophic to Latvia than Great Northern War.

Selected Sources:

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

Dunsdorfs, Edgars. (1962) Latvijas vēsture, 1600-1710. Stockholm: Daugava.

Lācis, Visvaldis (2001) Latviešu zemes un tautas vēsture. Rīga : ASF Saules koks : Vieda.

Frost, Robert I. (2000) The Northern wars: war, state and society in Northeastern Europe, 1558-1721. Harlow: Longman.

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Latvian Witches

Guide woman at Tervete dressed as a witch.

Christianity was the leading religion in Europe and did everything to tackle their religious counterparts. Before Christianity became the main dogmatic religion in Europe, Pagan religion was the leading belief. Even so for centuries Pagan traditions remained within simple people. There were people who still practiced Pagan traditions like fortune-telling, magic healing and other things not recognized by the church. From the 14th century to 18th century these people became victims of massive witch hunt in all Europe. In Latvia witch hunting were severe because of strong Pagan traditions within local people.

Witches are women with supernatural powers. They practiced necromancy and were blamed for various calamities like making all the rivers stop flowing. In Medieval times witches were blamed for making deals with the devil by signing it with their blood. Not only that, they were also considered to make sexual intercourse with the devil and make big black mass meetings (Sabbaths). When various heretic movements appeared they were associated with the devil. The whole conception of witch appeared in 15th century when Heinrich Kramer published Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of the Witches 1486).  This work paved way for witch hunt. Based on this witches were accused for making bad deeds like poisoning, sorcery, killing and fortune-telling.

In Latvia witches were deep in Latvian folklore. They appeared in Latvian folk songs, tales and legends. In tales witch’s husband was the devil and they lived in strange houses on fowl’s foot. Witches could turn a man into animal or various things like rivers and meadows. They travelled in the air with broomstick and attended witch meetings. Also they did other bad deeds but the Latvian view on witches were not wholly negative because Latvian simple peasants were not fanatic Christians as in Europe.

Witch House at Tervete

But foreign rulers of Latvia made witch trials in Latvia just like in other parts of Europe. Bans on Pagan practices were made in Medieval times but no witch trial was recorded in Latvia until the 16th century. In 1537 at  Valmiera landlords were instructed to keep an eye for Pagan practices and prevent them if necessary.  When anti-witch literature reached Livonia from Germany the idea of witch hunting emerged here. First witch was burned at the outskirts of Tallinn, Estonia in 1527. In Riga at 1531 men called Valdis Buhards was sentenced for sorcery. First burning occurred at Grobiņa 1559. When Latvia was under Polish rule witch hunting became widely used practice. Catholic Poles used barbaric torture practices. Even more witches were judged at 17 century Vidzeme controlled by Lutheran Swedes.  Between 1630.-1640 there were 40 trials or more. At local land courts no court session was without a witch trial. One accused person told that anyone here can practice witchcraft so all working men in farm fields must be killed. In the other half of 17 century because of changes in Swedish laws witch burning became less familiar.   At 1686 torture was banned and more liberal money fines were imposed instead of death penalty. Last death penalty was imposed in 1699.

After Vidzeme was taken by the Russians witch hunt ended completely. Witch hunt was also common in the Duchy of Courland and Semmigallia but less common in Latgallia. After all Latvia was included in Russian Empire witch hunt ended.

The Witch Burning in Riga.

The Witch Burning in Riga.

Because of strong Pagan tradition common in Latvians witch hunting occurred in Latvia. There are many sources from Western travelers who called Livonia a land of witches and wizards.  No doubt many of accused and killed man and women actually practiced some kind Pagan traditions not recognized by the church. Because of the  superstition and fear many people who did no harm were killed because of witch mania. Many women were completely innocent, and were killed because they differed from other women. Usually witch was considered women with long released hair usually black and rosy face and eyes. They differed by character from others and were looked with suspicion.  Many of them must have some mental problems that made them strange to others. In a time where psychology and tolerance was not known witch hunt was a useful tool to harm different people.

Today at age of multiculturalism Pagan practices are no longer harmed. Such person as Aleister Crowley would be killed and forgotten in at that time, but today he is still known as a famous black magician.  Neo-Pagan movements are springing so as the other beliefs. Let’s hope that there will be no time in the future where mass repressions are imposed because of some dogmatic religion.

Selected Sources:

Švābe, Arveds (Ed.) (1938) Latviešu konversācijas vārdnīca. Vol 17. Riga: Grāmatu apgādniecība A. Gulbis

Akmentiņš, R. (Ed.) (1994.) Mitoloģijas enciklopēdija : Pasaules tautu mitoloģiskās būtnes un priekšstati. (2. Vol) Riga: Latvijas Enciklopēdija.

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Reformation in Livonia

Since Emperor Constantine made Christianity as the main religion of Roman Empire this religion took its grip under Europe. Rome, previously a main enemy of Christian sect now was its main center. The Christian religion spread among the barbarian nations on the ruins of the old Roman Empire. However as every religion Christianity was vulnerable to inner quarrels and splits. The first great split was in 1054 when differences between churches in Rome and in Constantinople became so great that both sides made a split between the Catholic Church at Rome and Orthodox Church in Byzantium. This was western-eastern split.  In Medieval times Catholic Church made itself strong and significant. It was more or less independent from secular kingdoms and had its influence in every man’s life. The church had their own lands, their own treasury and supreme rights in European politics. Crusades were part of the Catholic Church quest for supremacy. However starting from the Medieval ages Catholic church started to become vulnerable itself from inner opposition. Protest movements were called heresies and eagerly attacked by the church. Most times heretics such as the Cathars, Free Spirit and Waldensians were crushed.

One of the first Reformation movements was Hussites in Bohemia (nowadays Czech Republic). Church killed their leader but that caused bloody wars against German Catholic rule.

In 15-16 century because of Renaissance and rise of need for more freedoms from the  Church a more bitter opposition started to take place. Its starting point was in Germany. Triggered by clergyman Martin Luther who objected the indulgences- Church practice which allowed repaying sins with money – a successful scam that made church filthy rich.  This caused a Europe wide stir and the Church tried to get rid of Luther, but this time he had support from German statesman Frederic III of Saxony and the church was unable to touch him. Inability to quell the rebellion made support for Luther and Reformation begun. The rise of Protestantism reached the shores of Livonia and affected it but not as bloody as in Germany, France or other places.

First Protestants came to Livonia from Germany. Andreass Knopken, Silvester Tegetmeier brought Protestant ideology to Riga. New movement got support from Riga Town Council and vassal curries. Catholic Church did not show enough resistance. At 1524 riots against Catholic Church took place as churches were demolished by protesters.  Monks and nuns were chased away from Riga. The church lost many real estates and riches. At the end Town council tried to stop the riots. The Livonian Order who should protect the Church was not interested in showing any serious action against the movement, the Order wanted to weaken its rival the Archbishop of Riga. Also the patron of the Order the Teutonic Order in Prussia was abolished and the Order was free from Germany. The order also desired to become a secular country rather than theocratic. However Wolther von Pletenberg the Master of the Order did not choose to do that, but he allowed freedom of belief in Riga Church lost its properties in Riga and Archbishop was exiled. Reformation then quickly came to other Livonian towns and finally in 1554 freedom of belief was imposed in all Livonia. Latvians who lived in towns also joined the movement. First Latvian congregations opened where ministration was taken in Latvian (Luther preached that ministrations can be taken in local language rather than Latin). This bought need for religious text translation in Latvian. First Lutheran Catechisms and sacral songs were translated into Latvian. This was a big step for Latvian writing and language as whole. Reformation also made first Latvian schools and need for Latvian priests. On the country side Reformation was not taken seriously by Latvian peasants. If the German landlord changed his beliefs then peasants also changed but they more practiced ancient pagan rituals than Christian beliefs. Paganism dominated the countryside to 18-19 century.

Reformation made victory in Livonia with ease because local German government wanted to be more independent from Germany and Rome and Germany itself had no real influence on Livonia. Therefore Latvia today is one of the strongest key points of Protestant movement.

After the  fall of Livonia new powers the Catholic Poles tried to make Contra-reformation. This was met by resistance and only region which was brought back to Catholicism was Latgalia. Now Lutheran Church is the main Church in Latvia. However Catholic Church holds influence in Latvia also. Surprisingly in today’s Latvia both Church shows unity and friendship. Latvia is also no stranger to other Christian movements like Baptism, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and other Christian sects. Latvia more or less has always been one of the freest places for multiple beliefs.

Selected Sources:

Feldmanis, Roberts. (2010) Latvijas baznīcas vēsture. Riga: Luterisma mantojuma fonds.

Spekke, Arnolds. (1995) Latvieši un Livonija 16. gs. Riga: Zinātne.

Klišāns, Valdis. (1992) Livonija 13.-16. gs. pirmajā pusē : mācību līdzeklis. Riga: Latvijas Universitāte

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