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.