RAMBAUD ON THE LIVONIAN AND TEUTONIC KNIGHTS

[excerpted from Alfred Rambaud, Russia, Leonora B. Lang, tr., vol. 1 (New York: Collier, 1900), pp. 105-111]


THE LIVONIAN KNIGHTS: CONQUEST OF THE BALTIC PROVINCES BY THE GERMANS.

THREE new races of men, three invasions (from the 12th to the 13th century), were to modify the historical development of the different parts of Slavonia ; the Russia of the north-west was to make acquaintance with the Germans, Russia of the cast and south with the Tatar-Mongols, Russia of the west with the Lithuanians.

Part of the Tchoud or Lett tribes of the Baltic were considered by the Russian princes and republics of the north-west as their subjects or tributaries. If the Danish Cnut the Great had conquered Esthonia, Iaroslaf the Great had founded Iourief (Dorpat) on the Embach which falls into the Peïpus, and then separated the Danish and Russian dominions. It separates today the country of the Finns into two peoples speaking different dialects, the dialect of Revel and that of Dorpat. A Mstislaf, son of Vladimir Monomachus, had conquered the city of Odenpaeh (Finnish bear's head) from the Tchouds. In the Lett country the princes of Polotsk had captured the native fortresses of Gersike and Kokenhausen on the Dwina, and extended their influence along this river to Thoreïda and Ascheraden.

With the German merchants Latin missionaries soon began to make their appearance on the Baltic. The monk Meinhard, sent by the Archbishop of Bremen, converted the Livonians, and was created bishop of Livonia. That which the Germans really brought, under the cloak of Christianity, to the Lett and descendants of the Tchoud hero Kalevy, and to many other Slav, Lithuanian, or Finnish tribes, now extinct, was the ruin of their national independence and servitude. The German merchant and the German missionary appeared almost at the same time on the Dwina. The apostle Meinhard built a church at Uexküll, and a fortress round the church (1187). From this fatal day these brave tribes lost their lands and their liberty. The Livonians soon saw to what this mission tended. They rose against the missionaries, and in 1198 the second bishop of Livonia perished in battle. The natives returned to their gods, and plunged in the Dwina to wash off the baptism they had received, and to send it back to Germany. Then Innocent III. preached a crusade against them, and Albert of Buxhoewden (1198-1229), their third bishop and the true founder of the German rule in Livonia, entered the Dwina with a fleet of twentythree ships, and built the town of Riga, which he made his capital (1200). The following year he installed the Order of the Brothers of the Army of Christ, or the Sword-bearers, to whom the Pope gave the statutes of the Templars. They wore a white mantle, with a red cross on the shoulders. The greater number were natives of Westphalia and Saxony. Vinno de Rohrbach was their first grand master. The Livonians, after having implored the help of the princes of Polotsk, marched on Riga, and suffered an entire defeat (1206). The prince of Polotsk in his turn besieged the city during the absence of the bishop, but it was saved by the arrival of a German flotilla.

Three causes were particularly favorable to the success of the knights of the sword, namely : the weakness of the princes of Polotsk, the intestine quarrels of Novgorod, which prevented her from watching over Russian interests, and the divisions among the natives who had not yet been able to raise their minds from the conception of the tribe to that of the nation. The knights were likewise far superior in their arms and tactics. The German fortresses were solidly built in cemented stone, while those of the natives were ramparts of earth, wood, or loose stones. In vain they tried to drag down with ropes the palisades of the German ramparts. The Sword-bearers afterwards undertook a series of campaigns against the Livonians and the Semigalli of the Dwina, and against the Tchouds of the north and the Letts of the south-east. If a tribe declined baptism and obedience, it was delivered a prey to fire and sword ; when it submitted, hostages were taken, and castles built on its terri. tory, these being often merely German reconstructions of the ancient native fortresses.

It was in this manner that Riga, Kirchholm, Uexküll, Lennewarden, Ascheraden, and Kreuzburg were built on the Dwina; Neuhausen, near the Peïpus, Wolmar, Wenden, Segevold, and Kremon on the Aa; Fellin and Weissenstein among the Northern Tchouds. The strangers managed to take Kokenhausen and Gersike from the princes of Polotsk, Odenpaeh and Dorpat from the Novgorodians ; Pskof was threatened. In the north Kolyvan was bought from the king of Denmark, after the fiercest disputes. Under its rock lies Kolyvan, a Titan hero of Finnish mythology. The town is now called Revel.

The conquered country was divided into fiefs, some of which belonged to the Order by whom they were distributed among the knights, the rest were at the disposal of the archbishop, who enfeoffed his own men. The new towns received the constitution of the merchant cities of Lubeck, Bremen, or Hamburg. Riga was the most powerful of them. The archbishop of Riga, the chapter, the town and the grand master of the Order, often quarrelled over their respective rights. Their divisions were one day to bring about the decline of the institution.

About 1225 another military fraternity was established among the Prussian Lithuanians, the Teutonic Order, which, on the remains of the subject pagan tribes, raised Thorn, Marienberg, Elbing and Koenigsberg. The Teutons of Prussia and the knights of Livonia were certain to be friendly; the black cross fraternized with the red, and, in 1237, the two orders united into one association. The Teutonic landmeister, Hermann de Balk, became landmeister of Livonia. The grand master of the Teutonic Order took precedence of all the landmeisters. Strengthened by this alliance, the " brothers of the army of Christ " were able to impose the most cruel servitude on the aboriginal Letts, Livonians, and Finns. These brave barbarians soon became peasants attached to the glebe. The German no. bility restored them their liberty at the beginning of this century, but it did not restore them their lands.

The conquering and conquered races are always separate. To the Tchoud, the word Saxa (Saxon, German) always signifies the master. A song of the Tchoud country of Pskof, called The days of Slavery, deplores the time when "the banners of the strangers waved, when the intruders made us slaves, enchained us as the serfs of tyrants, forced us to be their servants. Brother, what can I sing? Sadly sounds the song of tears. The lot of the slave is too hard." Another song of Wiesland (Esthonia) is entitled The Days of the Past. " The past, that was the time of massacre, a long time of suffering ... Destroying fiends were unchained against us. The priests strangled us with their rosaries, the greedy knights plundered us, troops of brigands ravaged us, armed murderers cut us in pieces. The father of the cross stole our riches, stole the treasure from the hiding-place, attacked the tree, the sacred tree, polluted the waters and the fountain of salvation. The axe smote on the oak of Tara, the woful hatchet on the tree of Kero." (Richter, Geschichte der deutschen Ostseeprovinzen.')

In the Kalevy-poeg, or "the son of Kalev," the national poem of the Tchoud-Esthonians, the hero, who is the personification of the race, displays in his various adventures a wonderful Titanic force. He swam the Gulf of Finland, he rooted up oak-trees to make his clubs; with his horse and his colossal harrow he ploughed up the land of Esthonia ; he exterminated the bears and the beasts of prey; he conquered the magician of Finland, and the genii of the caves; he descended into hell and fought with Sarvig the horned ; he sailed away to explore the utmost limits of the world, and when the hot breath of the spirits of the north burnt up his wooden vessel, he disembarked in a vessel of silver with fittings of metal. He braved whirlwinds at sea ; discovered the isle of flame (which is perhaps Iceland, where the tbree volcanoes vomit forth fire), of smoke, and boiling water; he encountered a gigantic woman who plucked up several sailors with the grass for the kine, as if the men had been insects; he rallied the courage of his pilot, horror-stricken by the flames with which the spirits of the north filled heaven, and said to him, "Let them send their darts of fire, they will only lighten us on our way, since the daylight would not accompany us, and the sun has long since gone to rest." He fought with men whose bodies were like dogs (possibly the Esquimaux of Greenland), and only retraced his steps because a magician assured him " that the wall of the world's end was still far off." It is at the close of the poem, when he is told that the men of iron (raudamched in Tchoud) have landed, that his unconquerable heart is troubled. The iron cannot penetrate their armor, nor the axe break it. In vain he seeks counsel at the tomb of his father; the tomb is silent, " the leaves murmur plaintively, the winds sigh drearily, the dew itself is troubled, the eye of the clouds is wet; " all Esthonian nature shares in the sinister forebodings of the national hero. He raised, however, the battlecry, and his warriors assembled on the Embach. Bloody is the battle I The Esthonians gain the victory, but what a victory I The bravest of them are dead, the two brothers of Kalevy-poeg perish, his charger is struck down by the axe of a stranger. The end of Esthonia, the age of slavery has arrived; it is time that Kalevy-poeg, the representative of the heroic age, should disappear; he who had vanquished the demon Sarvig, the sorcerers of Finland, and the spirits of the pole, could not subdue these men whom an unknown, irresistible force sustained, superior to that of the gods. Behold him, the captive of Mana, god of death. his wrist held fast in a rock, which is the gate of hell.

Long his sons trusted that Mana would give him back his lib. erty, and that once again the iron men would feel the weight of his arm; but, like King Arthur, he has never appeared, bringing to his people the liberty that the Germans have taken from them.