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Baltic Crusades: Lithuania

Lithuanian Infantry

Lithuanian Infantry

The best known history of the Baltic Crusades has to be the century long war which existed against the Lithuanians, which ended in 1410 with the defeat of the Teutonic Order at Tannenburg, considered by many, as the ending of the Baltic Crusades.

Latvian, Estonian and Prussian tribes stood their ground in bloody battles against the invading Crusaders.  Whilst neighbouring Lithuanians, formed their own pagan kingdom, to become a great power and serious military opponent in the eyes of the European Crusaders.

Following many an armed conflict with Teutonic and Livonian Orders, the Lithuanian city of Klaipeda was captured in 1252.  Duke Mindaugas of Lithuania surrounded by Knights had no choice but to bow down and accept Christianity in 1253.  Then most of Lithuania became part of the Christian realm, with the exception of Samogita who refused to accept Mindaugas as their leader.  A number of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes opted to be baptized into Catholicism as a way to bring bloodshed to an end.  However, the fighting didn’t end!

In 1263, Mindaugas was assassinated, and cheated Lithuanians reverted back to their pagan beliefs, for they wanted land not the saving of their souls.  The Order of the Teutonic Knights defeated Prussia in 1284, and it was assimilated into Polish, German and Lithuanian societies.  The title Prussia was appropriated by German conquerors for themselves.

14th century Crusaders continued their hold on Baltic lands, strengthening their power on Estonia in 1343, a result of the peasant uprising against Danish rule, and the sale of northern Estonia to the Teutonic Order for 10,000 marks.  Grand Duke Gediminas of Lithuania expanded his territory to the south and east, preventing Crusader incursions into his land.  However, in 1382 Lithuania lost Samogitia and for the next 30 years, came under the rule of Teutonic Knights.

Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania sought to preserve his country, and so it was in 1386, he married Queen Jadwiga of Poland.  This marriage saw the creation of the “Union of Kreva” a powerful Lithuanian/Polish state.  This union cemented the Christian character of Lithuania.

In 1410, the Lithuanians formed a coalition consisting of Russians, Poles, Tatars and Czechs who took on the might of the Teutonic Knights at the “Battle of Zalgiris” at Tannenberg, bringing an end to the Baltic Crusades.

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