Eastern Baltic
before Christianization

Livonia 1199-1346

Early in the 13th century the crusade movement diversified, the various national crusade contingents looking for targets of their own. The Archbishop of Bremen regarded the eastern Baltic, inhabited by the still pagan Curonians, Livonians and Estonians, a worthwile objective. In 1199 northern German crusaders established a foothold at RIGA. A bishop of Riga was consecrated (1199), a city, based on Luebeck city law, founded. Within a few years, all of modern Latvia as well as southern and western Estonia were subjugated.
The land was partitioned and a patchwork of territories emerged - the prince-bishoprics of Riga, of Oesel-Wiek, of Dorpat and Pilten, the free city of Riga, the territory of the cathedral chapter at Riga and domains of individual knights. The knights in 1202 had founded the ORDER OF THE BRETHREN OF THE SWORD, commonly referred to as the Livonian Order. These statelets formed a federation; at the head of the state was the LANDMEISTER (land master) of the Livonian Order. Feudalism was introduced in as far as large estates had been given to German feudal lords and the indigenous population had been reduced to serfdom.
The language of the church, as well as of written administration, was Latin; in the 14th century German-language texts, such as the Livlaendische Reimchronik - a chronologic history of Livonia in rhymes - appear. To the illiterate subjected population, either of these languages was incomprehensible.

In 1237 the Livonian and the Teutonic Order formed a federation, in which the Livonian Order was the junior partner. Both organizations remained clearly separated. In 1243, a host of Livonian knights was defeated in the BATTLE ON LAKE PEIPUS by an army from Novgorod commanded by Alexander Nevskiy; the battle marks the end of Livonian expansion.
As opposed to the Teutonic Order which fought the pagan Prussians but only slowly extended it's frontier, careful not to eliminate the existence of a pagan community and thus an excuse to stage further 'crusades' which attracted knights from as far as Aquitaine, the Livonian Order in the early 13th century had conquered it's sphere.

In 1255, Riga was elevated an ARCHDIOCESIS, giving Livonia another characteristic of an independent state. The later half of the 13th century saw the emergence of cities, most of all Riga and DORPAT, which prospered from the trade with Novgorod. These merchants were Germans and joined the HANSEATIC LEAGUE.
In 1346, King Valdemar III. of Denmark pawned Estonia to the Livonian Order; Denmark was never able to redeem it. Estonia quickly was integrated into Livonia.

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Courland, Livonia and Estonia. Confidential Handbooks No.57, 1919, from the British Foreign Office, posted on the Web by jewishgen.org
The Estonian Middle Ages (1200-1558), from Estonica
Battle of Peipus Lake, 1242, from Dictionary of Battles
Victims of the Baltic Crusade, essay by William Urban, from Journal of Baltic Studies, 1998 pp.195-212
An Historical Overview of the Crusade to Livonia, by William Urban, from ORB

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 5th 2002, last revised on November 11th 2004

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