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The Baltic Crusade 1100 - 1500

  The Bishop's Citadel, Kuressaare, Saaremaa, Estonia

(click on the map below to enlarge) 

The Baltic Crusades of the 11th to the early 15th century were a pivotal part of the transformation of the Baltic region from rural pagan farming peasants paying tribute to their lord, to the Christianized, market-oriented, urban foundation of modern Baltic society.

The institution of knighthood represented the values of medieval Europe, and the incursion of the knightly orders into the Baltic countries during these crusades transmitted those values to the Baltic regions despite the strong local resistance.

The involvement of north Germans and Scandinavians in the crusades left social and political imprints and changes that affected future historical events in the Baltic region that evolved into the countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Baltic Crusades are a branch of the Catholic crusading movement that comprised five main Crusades that occurred between 1096 and 1221. The enemies in these Crusades were supposed to be non-Christian, which mainly meant followers of Islam.

In the Baltic Crusades, the motivation of the  knights and princes was more related to acquisition of land and power than holiness, although the granting to Crusaders of eternal salvation by the Pope was a meaningful incentive.

The traditional lifestyle of Baltic peoples was ended when central European societies’ need for more land grew into a need for the products and natural resources available in the Baltic, attracting professional traders who then wanted some kind of protection when trading in this remote territory.

The Catholic Church was also interested in preventing the Russian Orthodox Church from making inroads any further west into the Baltic lands, and wished to convert all Orthodox Christians to the Catholic Church, thereby re-uniting all of Christendom.

Meinhard, who was an Augustinian monk from Holstein, accompanied some merchants up the Dauvaga River in the late 12th century on a mission to begin the attempt to convert the people of Livoniato to Christianity.

Following this, Bishop Berthold established a crusading force to more aggressively convert the local populace in 1198, which coincided with the declaration of the Fourth Crusade by Pope Innocent III and is therefore usually considered the beginning of the Baltic Crusade.

The next bishop, Albert, established the knightly crusading order known as the Swordbrothers in 1202, and obtained papal blessing for an official crusade in 1204.

By 1208 he had had forcibly converted the Kur and Lett peoples to Christianity and established the city of Riga, attracted merchants looking for a stable base from which to trade in the Baltic region.

A woodcut of Riga, dating from a 1575 French edition of Cosmographia Universalis
by Sebastian Münster




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