15.8 C
New York
Sunday, June 13, 2021

Prussian Crusade and the Stand for Paganism

- Advertisement -

As the Polish people were Christianized, and the Kingdom of Poland was established, seeking to conquer the lands that bordered the Baltic Sea, they sought to baptize the pagans inhabiting the territory known as Prussia. Formidable were their adversaries, continuing to effectively repel the attempts to bring them into Christianity. The old Prussians would enslave the Poles of Chelmo Land and Masovia each time they would be invaded.

Baltic tribes and Prussian clans c. 1200

Inviting the Holy Order

Plundering, pillaging, raiding, raping and enslaving, were among the deeds condone by the wild pagans that refused to bow to Christianity, a problem so big that the duke Konrad I of Masovia had requested from the papacy to aid the troubled Poles in purging the heretical pagans from the territory of the Kingdom of Poland, and to bring Prussia under Christian rule. The response from the Pope came in the form of the monastic military Teutonic Order. They were given order to wage a crusade in the Baltics, and to forcibly baptize anyone willing to join, slaughter and expel the rest that refused to do so.

Thus, had the Prussian Crusade begun, namely, with the Teutonic Order being promised territory, which they would govern over if they succeeded in taking it from the old Prussians in the tribal districts that were known as Bartia, Culmerland, Galindia, Nadrovia, Natangia, Pogesania, Pomesania, Samland, Scalovia, Sudovia and Ermland. Historians had attributed a total of 170.000 pepople among them; each region capable of levying half their population for war. As the Teutonic Order still had its bases of operation on Acre and in Armenia, they could only allow for a small force of knights accompanied by sergeants and squires to form a vanguard for defending the Kingdom of Poland.

Conquest in the Name of Christianity

They managed to reacquire lost castles and fortresses that fell to neglect as soon as they were built by raiding parties from pagan Prussia. Earlier expeditions into Prussian territory would be underway, only after other knights from the Christendom would join the crusade. They came mostly from the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Poland and the Dutchy of Pomerania, as well as mercenaries from all around Europe.

The first to fall under governance of the Teutonic Knights was the region of Pomesania, and with a clever ambush that netted them their leader Pepin, Prussian resistance in Culmerland was quelled with little opposition. Reinforcements for the Teutonic Order came in the form of 5000 veterans that were given to them by Burgrave of Magdeburg, and as Germanic settlers began to immigrate to the newly conquered land, they began building new towns each passing year. They cemented control over the land for the Teutonic Knights.

Teutonic state ca. 1260

The war for control over Prussia was brutal and taxing for the Teutonic Order, as the pagans proved a mighty opponent not to be trifled so easily with. Historical records show that in documents written during their conquest of Prussia, the pagans had found a big weakness in the heavily armored knights. Thus, they used fire, allowing them to burn their foes like roasting chestnuts. Although the land itself was still not fully conquered, the Teutonic Order had built castles and fortifications along their crusade in every part of Prussia, which gave them a solid foothold that plagued the pagans as they attempted to besiege, but each time they accomplished nothing more than slaughtering small expedition forces, militias and garrisons.

Local Resistance

The first rebellion that would falter the advance of the crusade was the First Prussian Uprising, spurred into an armed revolt by the Christian duke Swantopelk of Pomerallia. He made the Teutonic Order gained territory rapidly; the pagans had begun attacking the smaller forces of the crusading Germans, who were weakened in numbers, as the princes of Poland squabbled among each other. Losing most of their castles and foothold into Prussia, the Teutonic Knights survived due to the lacking siege capabilities of the pagan army. With a cunning diplomacy they had managed to gain the attention of the papacy, which ordered the Christians to focus on baptizing the pagan populace rather than arguing instead. Without the backing of the duke Swantopelk, which ended his alliance with the pagans in 1248, the Treaty of Christburg in 1249 allowed more civil liberties, rights and autonomy to the Prussian populace in return for giving back the captured castles and being governed over by the Teutonic Order once more.

As they delved deep into the forested region of Samland, they once more were met with hostility, yet this time, they came prepared, as previously they had requested aid from the King of Bohemia, the King of Hungary and the Princes of The Holy Roman Empire that amassed an army of 60.000 crusaders. Thus, most of the populace underwent baptism once their towns had fallen under the sword of the crusading army. Still, those that resisted were given no quarter.

Final Conquest and the Great Prussian Uprising

Building the castle Konigsberg and several other smaller fortresses along to halt raiding warbands from the Sudovian, Nadrovian and Scalovian lands, the Teutonic Order managed to conquer almost all of Prussia under their rule. Yet, the relative peace was short lived, as the pagans begun an armed revolt that became known as The Great Prussian Uprising that lasted from 1260 until 1274. The pagan Samogitians, which were given a two year period to convert to Christianity, decided to retain their pagan traditions, and by defeating the Livonian Order in the Battle of Skuodas in 1259, later inflicting a devastating blow to the Teutonic Order in the Battle of Durbe in 1260, they made the Great Uprising become a reality. As the primary focus of the Teutonic Knights was still in the Holy Land, as the princes of The Holy Roman Empire vied for control and power, what little reinforcements came in aid, were crushed in Pokarwis in 1261, and the Teutonic Order once more lost most of its castles around Prussia. Barely able to quell the resistance by the aid of Duke Albert I of Brunswick-Lunenburg and landgrave Henry III of Thuringia in 1265, the Teutonic Knights slowly but surely for the third time, regained their territory and castles. What remained of the rebellious forces was stifled very gruesomely.

With the fall of the Holy Land in Muslim hands, the focus of the Teutonic Order was to its full extent in conquering Prussia and establishing the State of the Teutonic Order. Eventually, the opposition met its grizzly end before the start of the 14th century.

- Advertisement -


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected


Latest Articles

History of the Varangian Guard and Their Effectiveness

The Varyags of Miklagaard, also more commonly known as the Varangian Guard of Constantinople (hence the runic markings in Hagia Sophia). They were an...

The Latin Empire of Constantinople (1204 – 1261)

In June 1203 the crusaders of the 4th crusade attacked the city of Constantinople on request of the Byzantine prince Alexius. Alexus III fled...

History of the Kingdom of Aragon

The kingdom of Aragon was a kingdom in northeastern Spain, roughly coextensive with the modern autonomous community of Aragon. The name Aragon comes from...

The conqueror of Constantinople – Story of Mehmed II Fatih

Mehmed II Fatih (the Conqueror) is born March 30 1432 in Adrianople as the fourth son of Murad II. Little is known for his...

Prussian Crusade and the Stand for Paganism

As the Polish people were Christianized, and the Kingdom of Poland was established, seeking to conquer the lands that bordered the Baltic Sea, they...