Russian history 35: Germans and Lithuania

At about the same time when the Tatars began their conquest of Russia, Swedes, Danes and Germans began to colonize the eastern banks of the Baltic Sea and subjugate the local Finnish and Lithuanian tribes. Swedes occupied Finland and were forcing the Finns to accept Christianity, Danes took Estland and built a strong fortress in Revel (Taani Linn, The Danish Town in Estonian, later Tallin), Germans colonized the mouths of the Western Dvina (Daugava) and Niemen. While moving eastwards, the Swedes and Germans in the XIII century entered a direct conflict with the Russians when they tried to capture Russian cities. So, Rus had to withstand the enemies both in the East and in the West. The Swedish attacks were repelled soon (see chapter 36) and the war against the Germans was much longer and complicated.

The Germans came to the mouth of the Western Dvina in the middle of XII century. The German merchants traded with the local tribes. The merchants were followed by missionaries. The attempts to christianize Livs and Lithuanians were unsuccessful — the baptised aborigenes went to Dvina and bathed to "wash away" the baptisement and to send it back to the Germans with the river waters. Then the Pope sent the crusaiders to assist the clerics. The newly appointed bishop of Livonia Albert came with an army, founded Riga in 1200 and began the occupation of the country. He copied the knights orders of Palestine and founded the order of the brothers of the sword (gladiferi), who carried a red cross on their cloaks and the sign of the sword on their shoulders. The order copied the statute of the Order of the temple.

Later, in 1225-1230, a new order appeared — the Teutonic order. The order was founded in Palestine but was driven out by the Muslims. One of the Polish kings, Konrad Mazovecky, asked the knights to arrive to his lands to protect them from the raids of a Lithuanian tribe, Prussians. In 50 years, the knights subjugated the Prussians. The land became a part of the German empire. So, by the XIII century a strong German army supported by the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope appeared on the eastern banks of the Baltic Sea.

The coming of the Germans had two effects for the western Russian lands: Novgorod, Pskov, Polotsk and Volyn. First, having occupied the lands of the Lithuanian tribes, the Germans attacked and captured the towns belonging to the knyaz of Polotsk on river Western Dvina. They approached Novgorod and Pskov, took Russian city Yuryev (also known as Derpt or Dorpat in German), captured Izborsk and even Pskov, from which they were soon expelled by Alexander Nevsky. Second, their advancement forced the Lithuanian tribes to unite. Sometimes they withstood the Germans and sometimes they attacked Rus. They took many lands controlled by Polotsk and later the lands of Kiev and Volyn'. Effectively, the arrival of Germans brought two enemies to Rus — the Germans themselves and the Lithuanians.

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