Knights Hospitallers: The Maltese Cross

The Maltese Cross was officially adopted by the Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St.John in the year 1126.

It consists of eight points, which denote the eight obligations of the knights:

  • To live in truth.
  • Have faith.
  • Repent one’s sins.
  • Proof of humility.
  • Love justice.
  • Be merciful.
  • Sincere and whole-hearted.
  • Endure persecution.

Some years later, the eight points of the cross, came to represent national groupings, of the noblemen who were admitted into the brotherhood.

  • Auvergne
  • Provence
  • France
  • Aragon
  • Castille and Portugal
  • Italy
  • Baviere (Germany)
  • England, Scotland and Ireland

The current symbol of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is the Maltese Cross.

Baltic Crusades: Converting Pagan Forces…


Prince Nyklot the Abodrite prince, had lost southern lands along the western frontier, attacked Wagria, the lands of Adolph II in the June of 1147.  The region fell to Wendish forces, and German villages came under attack.

Late summer of 1147, two Danish fleets, two Saxon armies, attacked the Wends.  Danes attacked northern shores.  Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony attacked Nyklot’s outpost at Dobin.

Nyklot had chosen wisely to make his stand at Dobin, the only ground surrounded by marshland and lake.  Nyklot sailed from Dobin, mauled the Danes, cutting off Danish and Saxon forces as the Wendish fleet attacked the Danish shipping in their northern harbours.

Two Danish Kings; Canute V and Sweyn III fed up with combined defeats, blamed each other for their losses, returned to Denmark and their Civil-War.  Whilst, Henry the Lion and Archbishop Adelbero laid siege to Dobin.  Battle weary and starving Wends, had no option but be baptized in the Christian faith.

Southern armies of Conrad, Albert the Bear and other forces began falling apart.  They should have attacked the Wends, but marched upon the Christian city of Stettin, and laid siege to the town… They left empty handed as religious leaders won in a parley.  For the city met within the Pope’s requirements.

The first year of the Baltic Crusade was more show than conquest.  Pagan shrines and idols were left intact.  Wends returned home, once Saxon banners were out of sight.  Saxon, Danes and Poles united through the church, but didn’t take long to fall apart.  The Saxons believed the Danes were weak, and an alliance would not work.  Strong and weak forces, would not mix well.

Baltic Crusades: Warfare


The best-known aspect of the Baltic Crusades, is the century long war against the Lithuanians, ending in 1410 with the defeat of the Teutonic Order at Tannenberg.

Heathens and Greek Orthodox Christians of Russia, referred to as “schismatics” by the Roman Catholic Church, became targets for the crusades.  The inner part of the Gulf of Finland, this is where Swedes battled with the Novgorodian state for control of trade routes.  The Livonian sector of the Teutonic Order attempted to expand its territory at the expense of Novgorod, but were defeated in 1242.

With the exceptions of the Lithuanians, heathen tribes in the Baltic had as yet begun any process of building a nation, which is why early and successful expansion of Christians was possible. Crusaders profited from rivalry and hostility between tribes, using the technique of divide and rule to secure victory. Alliances took place with some tribes, whilst others were easily defeated.  Soon after allies were prepared to accept Christian protection and domination, and conversion to a new faith.  It was within the sphere of influence, that military religious orders spread Christianity by force, the so-called mission of the sword.

Any peaceful co-existence with heathen tribes in Baltic regions, prior to the Crusaders arrival, was the exception rather than the rule.  Christians in the Baltic regions were hardly united, for tensions and conflicts with each other reigned.  In 1233 there was a fierce battle between the “Order of the Sword Brethren” and papal troops who were victorious in Reval.

According to the Charter of Kulm in 1233, nobles who held more than 672 hectares of land from the Teutonic Order would be called upon to serve; a shielded stallion and rider with two horsemen as escorts.  A form of service known as “Ross-dienst.”

The Teutonic Order strove to unite its territories by conquest of the Western territories, but this goal was never reached. The Polish-Lithuanian Union of 1385 and Christianisation of Lithuanian in 1387 changed the political map of Europe. The Teutonic Order’s defeat at Tannenberg in 1410 ended forays against heathens.  The Teutonic knights found the situation had changed; no longer carrying out raids, they had to defend themselves within and beyond their borders… Crusaders and knightly warfare of the Baltics, now belonged in the past.

Baltic Crusades: Finland’s Medieval Times


The latter part of the medieval period was marked by enlarged settlements along the coast and inland.  The Finn’s conquered the wilderness to the north, moved inland and cleared the forest, establishing agricultural communities.  This settling within the wilderness caused much conflict between Finnish farmers and Lapp reindeer herdsmen, forcing the Lapp’s to move northwards.  Towards the end of the 15thcentury a settlement of 200 x 100 kilometre area had been created along the Gulf of Bothnia.  By the end of the Middle Ages, Finland’s population had grown to 400,000 people.

Finland’s medieval economy was centred around agriculture, for a land with good soil.  Farming was substituted by times of hunting.  The majority of Finn’s lived this way.

The European institution of serfdom (A labourer who could not leave the land on which he worked), did not exist in Finland, for most farmers were freemen, with little political power.  Finland was represented by the Four Estates: Clergy – Nobility – Burghers – Farmers, with advisory powers to the King.  The Finn’s had minimal responsibilities regarding local justice and administration.

Catholicism was part of the medieval Finnish society. The church doubles as the heart of local administration, and played the role of education and development of Finnish language.  The Bishop of Turku was head of the Finnish church.

Turku, the south-western seaport, was the bishopric’s seat and administrative capital of Finland, a city dominated by German merchants.  Viipuri another city of importance, an active trade centre and military bastion, with eastern defences against the Russians.

Baltic Crusades: Finland – Swedish Empire


King Gustav I Vasa’s reign concentrated on royal power in the dynasty and furthering the aims of the Reformation.  He re-modelled Sweden into a great power, avoid involvement in foreign wars.  His successors sought expansion of Sweden’s power in the Baltics.  This policy produced some success, and led to the creation of a Swedish empire on the eastern and southern shores of the Baltic Sea.

In the mid 16thcentury, Sweden’s foreign policy brought it into conflict with; Denmark, Poland and Russia. These three powers fought many wars with Sweden, which had been at war some eighty years out of the last 300 years it ruled Finland.  Sweden and Russia were at war between 1570 to 1595 a war known as “The Long Wrath.” Sweden fought in the “Thirty Years War (1618-1648) in which Swedes under King Gustavus II Adopphus stopped the advance of the Habsburg Empire, coming ashore in the Baltics and securing Swedish possessions.  Finish troops were conscripted into the Swedish army, and Finns distinguished themselves on the battlefield.

1700 was the start of the “Great Northern War,” when Denmark, Poland and Russia formed an alliance, taking advantage of Sweden’s temporary weakness.  King Charles XII of Sweden surprised the armies bearing down on them, by knocking Denmark and Poland out of the war by 1706.  The Swedish King marched on Russia, where his forces met disaster on the battlefield of Poltava in 1709.  With Sweden in disarray, Denmark and Poland joined the war against Sweden. In 1718 King Charles XII was killed in action, whilst battling in Norway.

On the 30thAugust 1721, the Great Northern War came to an end with the signing of a peace treaty “Peace of Uusikaupunki” and Sweden gave up its territories on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea.  Sweden was forced to pay an indemnity to Russia, and Russian forces fled Finland, whilst retaining some territories along Finland’s south-eastern border.  As a result of years of war, Sweden’s power was reduced and Russia replaced Sweden as the main power in the Baltics.

Famine struck down one-third of Finland’s population in 1696.  The wars greatest impact being the Russian occupation (1714-1722), a time known as the Great Wrath.  Hardships of being conquered and Charles XII’s insistence that Finn’s carry on a partisan warfare against the Russians did not help.  Large areas of countryside had been destroyed by Russian forces, to deny Finland’s resources being passed to Sweden.  Some 60,000 Finns served in the Swedish army, and only 10,000 survived the Great Northern War.  At the start of the war Finland’s population numbered 400,000 and by the end of the war only 330,000 survived.

Charles II’s policies led to absolute monarchy in Sweden and half-century of parliamentary supremacy, known as the Age of Freedom.

One major strife of this era involved two political parties.  The “Hats” represented the “Upper Class” and the “Caps” represented the “Lower Class.” In 1741 the Hats led Sweden into war against Russia.  Russian forces responded by invading Finland and taking up occupation.  In accordance with the 1743 Peace Treaty, Russia vacated Finland, taking a slice of Finnish territory from the south-eastern frontier.

In 1788, Sweden declared war against Russia, an attempt ta take territory from Finland’s eastern frontier.  A mutiny took place led by Goran Sprenglporten a former Swedish Colonel, hoping to stop Russia taking revenge on Finland by taking land.  In 1790 the “Treaty of Varala” was signed, and with it the war ended.  Finland lost no land to Russia.

Sweden’s frequent wars were expensive, and led to the taxation of its people.  A system of government controls on the economy, was imposed on Sweden and Finland’s people.  The Finnish economy was exploited and favoured the Swedes.  Sweden’s wars enabled Swedish aristocrats and military officers to seize large estates in Finland.  They might have been free of serfdom, but its peasants had high taxes imposed upon them, and retained limited political power… Sweden’s nobility held much political and power in Finland.

Finland’s frontier was being pushed northwards as new stretches of wilderness were settled upon.  In the 1730’s the potato was introduced, creating a stable food supply.

During the Napoleonic wars, the union that had existed for centuries between Sweden and Finland came to an end.  France and Russia became allies in 1807, and Napoleon pushed Russia into getting Sweden to join with them against Britain.  Tsar Alexander I invaded Finland in 1808 and conquered Finland in 1809.  Sweden ceded Finland to Russia in the “Treaty of Hamina,” signed on the 17thSeptember 1809.

Teutonic Castle: Kowalewo Pomorskie


Teutonic Castle Ruins of Kowalewo Pomorskie

The Teutonic Castle of Kowalewo Pomorskie in Poland, was built around 1231 of wooden construction, and enhanced by an earth stronghold.  In 1262 and again in 1269-73, this wooden castle stood up and was successful in repelling; Lithuanians, Bartians and Yotvingian invasion forces.  In 1275 the castle and adjoining settlement, received town rights from the Teutonic Knights.  In 1278 Kowalewo became the seat of Rudolf, the Teutonic Commander.  In 1286 the Castle and Town was totally destroyed by the Tatars.  In 1288 Arnold Kropf became the next Teutonic Comander, and he is remembered for the building of a new castle, built out of stone.  Surrounded on three sides; east, west and south by a walled moat, and a lake on its north side.  On the eastern side, was the city whose fortifications were linked to the castle. It was completed for the Grand Master, one Gotfryd Hohenlohe.

In the year 1330, during the Polish Teutonic war, the castle was besieged by Polish knights under the command of king Wladyslaw Lokietek.  As much as they tried, the siege proved to be a fruitless attack.  In the years 1410 and 1422, was occupied by king Wladyshaw II Jagiello, but always fell back into the hands of the Teutonic knights.

In the year 1454 the city was invaded by armies of the Prussian States, they who went on to form a rebellion against the Teutonic Knights.

Following the “Thirteen Years War” the castle found itself within Poland’s borders, becoming the seat of the starosts, and municipal courts of the Chelmno Province.

It was damaged and plundered during the 17thcentury Swedish wars.  In the 18thcentury Russian forces laid siege upon the city, and by 1772 few houses remained standing, with city walls, castle and church barely standing, it had become a scene of much destruction.  In the mid 19thcentury, Prussian Authorities ordered it be pulled down, before it fell down.

Wikipedia Image: Teutonic Castle of Kowalewo Pomorskie

Baltic Crusades: Redemption through Battle


The Teutonic Knights headquarters of 1309 at Marienburg Castle.

The German Teutonic Knights, were called upon by the Polish Duke; Conrad of Mazovia.  For their assistance was needed in the taming of his heathen and warmongering neighbours; the Prussians.  Previous attempts to win converts through persuasion rather than force had seen limited success, for the majority of the Prussians were of a hostile nature.

In 1220 the Poles founded their own military order; the “Knights of Dobrzyn” based on the sword brothers, to provide protection against pagan attacks from across the border.

In 1223 a crusade was launched against the Prussians, but Prussian reprisal raids were so savage that the borders of Mazovia and other Polish duchies were in great jeopardy.

Conrad offered these Teutonic Knights the land of Kulmerland and Kulm Fort, and any territory they conqueror.  The Teutonic Grand Master; Salza, would not send his forces into battle, until Emperor Frederick II had personally guaranteed that all conquered land became Teutonic land.  Pope Gregory IX confirmed the agreement, and the signal was given as the Teutonic Knights marched north crossing into Prussian held lands.

In the year 1230, a force of 20 Knights and 200 sergeants under the command of Herman Balke arrived at Kulm, by way of rivers, by marking their advance with a string of forts.  As each district was conquered, German Knights settled within the community.  They colonised the land by providing the order with income and military service.

One advantage that the Teutonic Knights had over the sword brothers was independence.  The Sword Brothers were created as an instrument of Bishop Albert with a duty to obey and protect him.  The knights on the other hand were an order free from episcopal restraints.  In addition, the Teutonic Knights had an unlimited supply of crusading allies.  Where as the Sword Brothers had to rely on reinforcements that Bishop Albert could scrape together, the Teutonic Knights had a vast network of convents and castles to serve as recruiting centres.  Moreover, German Crusaders who had sailed through the dangerous waters of Livonia, journeyed overland to Prussia.  They had close ties with many noblemen, Polish and German who sent a steady stream of men and supplies.

Despite such advantages, campaigning against the Prussians was far from easy.  Although their wicker shields and wooden forts were no match for the crossbows and siege engines of the crusaders, the native tribes fought back with the ferocity of desperation.  Crusader armies were accompanied by Dominican priests who offered peace in return for conversion, but it was rare that their offer would be accepted.

The Teutonic Knights chronicles describes the fate of two knights captured by the Prussians:

  • One was placed in a cleft tree trunk and held apart by ropes.The ropes would be released, the knight would be crushed and the tree would be set ablaze.
  • The other prisoner would be tied to his horse, then he and his mount were hoisted to the top of an oak tree, beneath which a great fire was lit.

The Crusaders acted in a similar manner, by hanging or beheading their prisoners.

The motive for the Teutonic Knight was redemption through battle.  “Who fights us,” proclaimed the order “fights Jesus Christ.”  In the case of the warrior monks, the enemy was the unrepentant pagan and satan within themselves.  To vanquish the deadly foe, the knight-brother submitted to a Draconian regime of prayer, discipline and self-denial.

For it was written down in the rules of the Order, a knight was not permitted to own any property.  He would be issued with a sword and armour, pair of breeches, shirts two, boots two, coat, sleeping bag, blanket, breviary and knife. He was permitted two or four mounts as required, and like his clothing and equipment, belonged to the Order.  He was forbidden to mix with layman, and be silent at meal times, in his dormitory, on the march and in latrines. Jousting was a forbidden act.  He could only hunt animals that attacked settler’s livestock and crops.

He would sleep in his shirt, breeches and boots with sword at hand, rising four times a night to recite the offices order. Friday’s were his day of discipline; Flagellating his body until blood was drawn.

The knights were an awesome and effective fighting force.  In 1235 they consumed the knights of Dobrzyn into their order.  By 1236 their military force had penetrated as far as the Vistula Delta and advancing eastwards along the Baltic shorelines towards the River Neman. The union with the Sword Brothers took place in the May of 1237, after their defeat at Saule.  This brought about the Teutonic Knights Baltic Dominion, stretching far beyond Prussia’s borders.

Herman Balke, master of Prussia took charge of the Crusade in Livonia.  In 1238 he made an agreement with the Danish ruler; King Waldemar.  The Danes received northern provinces and Sword Brothers conquests in the south.  In 1240 a combined German and Danish force marched from Livonia, having captured Izborsk and Pskov, in preparation for their attack against Novgorod.

Batu Khan leader of the Mongols, headed into Poland and Hungary.  The Crusade against the Russian’s was replaced with the crusade against the Mongol’s. On the 9thApril 1241, an army of Poles, Germans and Teutonic Knights clashed with the Mongols.  The knights made a valiant charge against their enemy, only to be cut down in a hail of arrows.  Prussian master Poppo of Osterna was lucky to escape, other’s were not so fortunate.  The severed head of Duke Henry of Silesia, the Christian commander, was bolted to the tip of a lance, whilst the ears of his comrades were cut off and gathered up and presented to Batu Khan in sacks.

Fortunately for Catholic Europe, the great Khan Ogedei died in the latter part of 1241, an event that sent Batu hurrying back to Mongolia for the succession dispute.  The Novgorodians now out of danger from Mongols, took the opportunity to settle accounts with the Crusaders.  In the early part of 1242, Alexander Nevsky Prince of Novgorod laid a successful siege upon Russian territories occupied by Danes and Germans.

On the 5thApril 1242 two Christian armies clashed at Lake Peipus.  The heavily armoured cavalry of the Crusaders broke through Russian ranks, but were overwhelmed by the superior forces of Prince Nevsky, driven onto the iced frozen lake, where most died that day.

The Crusading forces barely had time to recover from their defeat, when a rebellion by Prussian tribesmen destroyed all but three of their forts and settlements.

The papacy anxious to avoid trouble in the future, used the Teutonic Knights to vanquish their enemies.  The 1249 “Treaty of Christburg” promised Prussians who renounced paganism and accepted the Christian faith into their hearts, were guaranteed rights as Germans and Poles.  They could buy, litigate and worship with immigrant burghers, they who were entitled to become priests and knights.

Around this time “Mindaugas” the Lithuanian chief whose state came under attack from Poles, Russians, Mongols and Crusaders, chose to neutralise at least one of his enemies by accepting the embrace of Rome. Mindaugas invited German merchants and settlers to enter Lithuania.  He went one step further by arranging that the Teutonic Order should take over his lands, should he die without leaving an heir.  He promised to turn over the coastal territories of Samogitia, completing the land link between Prussia and Livonia.

The Samogitians refused Christian rule, and in the July of 1260, they defeated the Crusader army at Durban, the worst defeat that the Teutonic Knights had suffered since entering the Baltics… Some 150 Crusader Knights were brutally murdered, which included the “Master of Livonia and Marshal of Prussia,” it sparked off an uprising by the Prussians.  The revolt spread to other tribes and Mindaugas seeing an opportunity decided to resume his war against the Christians.  He was murdered by his brother-in-law in 1263, this had limited effect on the military situation, for many Lithuanians supported the rebels. So desperate be the plight of the Teutonic Knights that Pope Urban IV, called upon those who had taken up the cross, to offer assistance to the order in return for full remission of sins.

By now pagan warriors had learnt the techniques of modern warfare, and were well armed, led and organised with the ability to attack fortresses, and engage in open battle.  The Crusaders suffered heavy defeats, yet they inflicted more casualties than they received.  For in 1290 they brought their rebellious subjects to heel.

With the Teutonic Knights firmly in control, what had been a trickle of settlers, became a flood.  Prussia became a major attraction, as large numbers fled northern Germany with prospects of large expanse of land and low rents.  Some 1,500 towns and villages had been founded, with a population in excess of 150,000.  A land that had seen slaughter and starvation during the Baltic Crusades, now witnessed a new growth.

Efficient cultivation of Prussian wilderness, knights would employ colonizing agents to recruit peasants, allocate plots and organise villages.  In return the agent would receive his own plot of village land, become village judge and in some cases mill owner.  A village would consist of twenty families with 40-60 hectares of land.  In Germany peasants were bound to the lord of the manor, whereas in Prussia one had few obligations; pay rent and perform military service.

Local merchants were left to pursue their own affairs.  The result being, they built up prosperous trade links, with wealthy ports of Northern Germany to land-locked cities of Hungary, Lithuania and Russia.  Wars or no wars, trade continued.

The Teutonic Order carried on a lucrative trade, with its fleet moving goods across the Baltic; main exports being grain and Prussian amber.  The Order minted its own coinage, set up an internal postal service and introduced a uniform system of weights and measures.  Policy matters were decided by the Master of Prussia, day-to-day running of country-tax collections, justice and defence came under local commanders and a convent of twelve brothers.  Many brothers being skilled book-keepers who would hold responsible positions in the keeping of accounts.

The demands, their role as scribes and clerks, these Teutonic Knights never lost sight of their true priority, the defence of the realm against heathens and unbelievers.  Christian rule benefits, no Jew permitted to settle within the Orders land. Native Prussians were regarded with much suspicion.  A small minority who remained loyal to the rebellion, were treated as Germans were, receiving lands and liberties based on their rank.  Prussians who had reverted to paganism were recruited as labourers on German estates.  So deep-rooted was the distrust, whenever Prussians and Germans drank together, Prussians would drink first, for fear of being poisoned.

In the latter part of the 13thcentury, Teutonic Knights felt secure with great wealth power and prestige, more than any monarch.  Appearance proved deceptive, for in 1291 Muslim forces laid siege to Acre, the Order’s Ancient headquarters. They lost the battle for Acre and were driven out, establishing a new base of operations in Venice.

The Rigans and Teutonic Knights were set on a collision course, as the former demanded more independence, and the other refusing to release its sovereignty over the city.  In 1297 when Knight Brothers demolished the Rigans bridge which stood over Dvina River, ensuing violence and blood flowed on both sides, houses burnt and merchants arrested.  Angry citizens took things into their own hands, storming the convent and throwing six brethren into prison and destruction of the convent. Knight Brothers responded by destroying farmland, the burning of manors and farms, cutting down fruit trees and driving off livestock.

Pope Boniface VIII demanded an explanation from both sides, and so it was, chosen representatives came before the Pope in July of 1299.  The Rigans called the Teutonic Knights nothing more than ruffians, who sought money, and did not carry out their duties in the fighting of heathens. Archbishop John III of Riga, whose estates had been seized, hadn’t a good work to say in their defence.  He claimed the Order received Livonia, and were expected to convert natives, fight pagans and turn them to the Christian faith. Imposed savagery, cruelty and tyranny, had deterred natives from accepting the true Christian faith.

The Order denied the accusations laid against them, claiming the Knight-Brothers paid with blood to achieve conversion of Livonia.  They claimed their success was there to be seen amongst the natives, if asked they would reply they believed in God and the Holy Roman Church.  Pope Boniface was left to come up with a compromise which satisfied the Archbishop and Rigans against the Teutonic Knights, even to the point of returning all that had been taken by the Knights.

In 1306 the quarrel came to a head once again, when Archbishop John’s successor, added witchcraft, sodomy and genocide to the original charges against the order.  The new POPE; Clement V, elected in 1305 an ally of Philip IV of France. Philip declared it was his aim to abolish the existing military order and create a new military order, with him at its head.  In October of 1307 King Philip IV of France arrested all members of the Knights Templar resident in his realm, they were tortured to an inch of their lives, and put on trial for acts of heresy.  In 1308 Pope Clement a puppet of King Philip extended the arrest warrant of the Knights Templar to cover Europe.  The charges were groundless, confessions extracted by torture, and many were burnt at the stake.

The Teutonic Knights watched on in disbelief, and in 1309 fearing for their lives moved its headquarters from Venice to Marienburg Castle in Prussia, out of the reach of the Pope or French Monarch.

In 1310 Pope Clement appointed a commission to investigate charges laid against the Teutonic Knights.

With the loss of Acre, adventure seeking nobles and warriors flocked to join the Baltic Crusades.  The Teutonic Knights welcomed them with open arms…

By 1386 the downfall of the Teutonic Knights was in sight.  For in 1386 Grand Duke Jogaila the Lithuanian leader became a Catholic and married Jadwiga the Polish Queen.  The Teutonic Knights could no longer justify attacks upon the Christian ruler.  This new dynastic union of Poland and Lithuania through marriage, posed a serious threat to the Teutonic Knights.

On the 15thJuly 1410, a day of reckoning was at hand.  A ten-hour battle took place at Tannenberg between Polish and Lithuanian army, who would decimate the Teutonic Knights.  It didn’t end there, a century and a half later, the Teutonic Knights admitted defeat, effectively ending the Baltic Crusade…

Seeds of the Crusade

The Crusaders

The seeds of what became known as the Wendish Crusade of 1147, had been planted some five-hundred years earlier.  In the latter years of the 11thcentury, Byzantium lay to the south and east of Wendish lands, and came under aggressive attacks from the Turks, who seized large areas of lands, following Byzantine’s army’s defeat at Manzikert, in Asia Minor in 1071.  In 1081 Emperor Alexius I Comneus, became Constantinople’s leader holding off the Turks.  Alexius needed help and sent a letter to Pope Urban II…  His simple letter of help, led to numerous of Crusades and thousands of European warriors coming to their aid…

Pope Urban II, received a plea for help from Constantinople, he saw it as a way of turning pagan’s to Christians, and bringing them all under the authority of the papacy.  He called for a Holy War, a Crusade against Muslims in the Holy Land and Pagans in the Baltic Crusade of Europe.  Its aim to free Jerusalem and the infidels.

Pope Urban II had to offer something, to these warriors who would put their lives on the line, with little chance of returning. (He proclaimed that any man who went to free the Holy Land would be absolved of all sins on earth and guaranteed a heavenly reward in the afterlife).

An ongoing battle took place between European crusaders and Muslim forces between the years (1096-1099), with Jerusalem as the prize.  In 1099 Jerusalem fell into Christian hands, and a military state was set up by the Crusaders, they being the new protectors of the Holy City.

In 1144 Islamic leader one Imad al Din Zangi unified the Arabic world, which witnessed attacks upon Palestine and the European strongholds.

In 1146, Edessa fell to Zangi’s forces as panic spread across Europe.  A cry went up, calling for a Second Crusade for the capture of Jerusalem, and freeing the Holy Land from an oppressive Muslim regime.

The First Crusade was ordained by the Pope, the new call came from “St. Bernard Abbot of Clairvaux,” the Pope’s representative, who tore his habit, making crosses for his warriors.

Baltic Crusades: The Kalmar Union


From 1397 to 1523 Scandinavia had been politically united under the Danish crown.  The Kalmar Union had been created, which allowed three Scandinavian states: Denmark, Sweden and Norway to present a united force against foreign and German encroachments.  Queen Margaret I of Denmark was the driving force, she who had become Queen of Norway through marriage, and Queen of Sweden by joining of forces against the unpopular German King.

Under the Kalmar Union, European monarchs expanded their royal power, bringing them into conflict with their nobles.  The union eventually folded as Danish and Swedish monarchs could no longer work together as both factions clashed, resulting in warfare.

Warfare took place between Denmark and Sweden, which diverted Finland’s eastern defences leaving it open to attack by the Muscovites.  In the latter part of the 15thcentury, the Grand Duchy of Muscovy had carried out expansion, which would become part of the Russian Empire.  In 1478 Grand Duke Ivan III, brought Muscovite power to Finland’s border.  In 1493 Denmark and Muscovy made a treaty of alliance, aimed at creating Sweden in a two-front war, and in 1495 Muscovite forces invaded Finland.  The Fortress of Viipuri survived the attack, leaving large areas of Finland’s borders in devastation.  In 1497 Swedes made peace with Muscovy.  Swedish – Finnish forces defended Finland, with little assistance from Sweden.

Swedish noble; Gustav Vasa led a revolt against the Kalmar Union, which led to the creation of a Swedish state, separate from Denmark in 1523.  Vasa became King Gustav I Vasa of Sweden, founding a dynasty, ruling Sweden – Finland for more than a century.  He will be remembered for the creation of Sweden’s modern state, and under his rule Finland and Sweden remained an integrated state.

Baltic Crusades: Swedish Rule


During the Viking Age (800-1050) Swedish Vikings sought contact with Finns, aimed at establishing trade ties with the Arab world, through Russia.

Swedish influence in Finland grew, towards the close of the Viking Age, which saw Swedes converted to Christianity by the Roman Catholic Church.  Many Finns were converted to the Roman Catholic faith during the mid 12thcentury, around the time of the Crusades.

Historical legend maintains that the crusade of 1157, led against the Finns by the Swedish King Eric IX, and an English monk, named Henry, an appointed archbishop.  Henry was martyred in Finland, and became the country’s patron saint.

Russian forces sought control of Finland based on religious grounds.  They who were of Eastern Orthodox Christianity attempted to convert the Finns to their religious order.  Those of Eastern Karelia were converted, whilst those in the west remained Roman Catholic.

Around 1240, Rome approved two Crusades; Swedish Crusaders invaded Russia, and were brought to a stop on the banks of the Neva River by Prince Alexander of Novgorod.  The Second Crusade led by the Teutonic Knights were defeated by Alexander Nevsky at Lake Peipus in 1242.  The Swedes made a final attempt to take back Eastern Karelia from the Russians in 1293, but that was not to be.  A Thirty Years War failed to dislodge the Russians from the region.  The war ended in 1323 by Peace of Pahkinasaari, which established a border between Russia and Finland, which lasted nearly three hundred years.

Sweden consolidated its control over Finland, a process which led to the introduction of Swedish settlers along southern and western coastal areas of Finland.  Most would remain in these coastal regions becoming members of a ruling class within Finland, and politically integrated into the Swedish realm.