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Its main goal, at least officially, was to spread Christianity among the indigenous Baltic and Finnic tribes, who collectively formed one of the last pagan bastions wedged between the rising powers of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. In 1225 a papal legate arrived to settle the power issues between the Sword Brethren, local bishops and participating nobility from Denmark and Germany. Livonia was divided into several feudal principalities serving as direct subjects to the Holy See and jointly named Terra Mariana, the land of Mary. Thus, the first phase of the Livonian Crusade came to an end. The Catholic military actions in the Baltic never enjoyed the prestige of the Middle Eastern Crusades but was comparably every bit as cruel and ruthless, as many pagan tribes of Livonia withstood forced Christianisation efforts for many years. Threatened by the Catholic sword to betray their traditional beliefs in favour of the new faith, they often chose to fight the invaders instead. The eastern Baltic wasn’t a particularly peaceful area, even before the first Christianisation attempts were made. Indigenous clans raided each other for slaves, while the stronger ones even plundered the lands of their Russian and Scandinavian neighbours. These warlike societies were further hardened and militarised by defying the Christian invaders since the late 12th century. The rough and swampy Livonian woodlands encouraged ambushes and the usage of hit and run tactics by the indigenous tribes, as it was their only hope to stand a chance against the usually heavy armoured and well-disciplined Sword Brethren. In 1236 a papal bull was issued, declaring a crusade against the Lithuanian tribes inhabiting the lands south of the Daugava river. The Sword Brethren were reinforced by a party of so called “seasonal crusaders” from northern Germany and, in September, the joint force entered the lands of Samogitian tribes. Upon making contact with an enemy raiding party at a swampy river crossing, the Master of the Sword Brethren, being pressured by proud and overconfident German knights who refused to fight on foot, set camp for the night in this unsuitable place. This proved to be a huge mistake. The next morning, they were surrounded by the main Samogitian army, and while the Sword Brethren fought bravely, it was a crushing defeat. The abrupt end of the Lithuanian campaign, was also the end of the existence of the Sword Brethren as a separate order. More than half of the sworn brothers were killed, together with their commander, Grand Master Volkwin. Following the disastrous battle south of the Daugava, the remnants of the order were incorporated into the more renowned Teutonic Knights, operating to the south, and became its northern branch, named the Livonian Order. The territory of Livonia had undergone major political reorganisation, sealed by papal legate William of Modena, but it still remained a heavily militarized region. This gradually became a major concern for the Russian principalities to the East, particularly the Novgorod Republic, the strongest state of northern Russia. It’s core city, Novgorod the Great, was a thriving trade centre, moving such goods as furs, walrus ivory and dried fish. The Bishop of Novgorod was the head of the city, though only nominally. In truth, it was ruled by the town council. Despite its wealthy status, Novgorod could hardly defend itself from a serious outside threat with its own militia. Thus, whenever needed, a prince, known as a knyaz was invited to lead the city’s own force, also strengthening it with his own private army. There was no clear consensus among the Russian states on how to address the Catholic expansion within the Eastern Baltic region. Some nobility of Novgorod wanted to come to terms with the newcomers, while the others favoured a more aggressive stance, assisted by the princely Vsevolodovich dynasty. Although it seemed that both sides avoided an open conflict, in 1234 Prince Yaroslav lead a Novgorodian raiding party west and sacked the city of Dorpat, which was regarded as territory owned by Novgorod prior to the arrival of the Catholic military orders. Yet this raid was just one, inconclusive attack, and the borders remained untouched. Yaroslav moved his retinue to Kiev, instating his sixteen years old son – Alexander, as the new Prince of Novgorod. It was quite a challenge for the young knyaz, but Alexander quickly proved to be an able politician, swiftly balancing between various groups of interest in Novgorod. He was well aware of his own capabilities, and when the Mongol hordes ravaged the vast Russian interior in 1237, he submitted to the invaders before they were even able to reach Novgorod. This act was quite unusual, as other principalities often chose to fight the Mongols, which resulted in the devastation of their domains. Although on this occasion the Golden Horde eventually omitted Novgorod, from then on the eastern threat became Alexander’s major concern. But let’s get back to the western theatre and affairs in Livonia. Just as the Mongols devastated the cities of southern Russia, Pope Gregory IX called for a crusade against the Orthodox “schismatics”, encouraged by the divisions within the Novgorodian ruling class. The Pope’s official reasoning was that the Eastern Church did little to convert Baltic pagans, he also hoped that a common enemy would unify the squabbling crusaders of the Eastern Baltic area. It took some time for the papal legate to get things going, but in the summer of the year 1240 the first advance into Novgorodian territory had been made. The Swedish army under Thomas, Bishop of Finland, sailed up the Neva river. It’s not clear whether the Swedish bishop acted in cooperation with other allies, but his attack was easily repulsed by Alexander, who ambushed the camping Swedes and dealt them a considerable blow, forcing an uncoordinated retreat. Most likely this wasn’t a full scale invasion, but nonetheless Alexander used this victory wisely, and was soon hailed as Alexander Nevsky, enjoying immense popularity among the Novgorodian townsfolk. Yet his unexpected success made him new enemies, and soon, after a quarrel with the city’s merchants, he ostensibly left Novgorod, taking all his troops and family. Clearly, this time business won over politics. Anyway, this wasn’t by any means an end to Novgorod’s problems. Just months later, the Livonian Order raided deep into Novgorodian territory north of Lake Peipus, seizing the town of Koporye and plundering Tesov, just 50 kilometres from Novgorod. The town council wasn’t really prepared for this unexpected attack. Moreover, the Livonian Order installed a permanent garrison in Koporye, and soon began construction of a stone castle. Apparently, their plans were far more ambitious than just the mere plundering of Russian territory. Novgorod realised the danger and asked for Alexander to return, abandoning their demands which had led to their previous quarrel. Grand Prince Yaroslav initially offered the help of his younger son, Andrey, but Novgorodians insisted on Alexander. Eventually, both Vsevolodovich brothers were sent back to the north-west, but all this politics took time, during which the Livonian Order didn’t stay idle. With help of Danish and German nobility from Livonia, they performed another attack, this time south of the Lake Peipus. The Izborsk stronghold fell, and subsequently, the tiny garrison of Pskov was overwhelmed, and the town was taken. Crusader confidence was high, they doubted that Novgorod was able to acquire a sufficient army to actually oppose the invaders. One of the bishops even messaged the Pope with a request to grant him authority over Russian lands yet to be conquered. Meanwhile, Alexander finally arrived in Novgorod with his troops, strung up those who dared to drive him out of the city a year earlier and prepared an organised defence. His return though, coincided with another Mongol attack. It was a deadly threat to both belligerents, as Alexander couldn’t be sure of the Mongol intentions, as their previous agreements were rather brief and of little importance. Luckily, the Mongols avoided Novgorod and the north in general, wreaking havoc in central Europe instead, so Alexander could plan his steps uninterrupted. He performed his first counter-attack in autumn of the year 1241, taking the newly built Koporye castle by surprise. Early the next year he was ready to reclaim the town of Pskov, and did it swiftly enough, so the stationed nearby garrison at Izborsk could not intervene in time. While Alexander limited his actions to Novgorod territory over the previous year, this time he passed by the Izborsk stronghold and ravaged the lands to the south of city of Dorpat as an act of vengeance. While Novgorodian troops were busy pillaging, the Livonian Order hastily assembled an army able to repell the enemy, commanded by Bishop Hermann of Dorpat. They struck one of Alexander’s unexpecting units south-east of the city in a first move. Novgorodian survivors of the ambush rejoined with their prince and Alexander learned that the Livonian Order had gathered enough troops to pose a serious threat to his goals. We don’t know much about Alexander’s exact plans, but upon learning that the enemy was tracing him, he made use of his superior scouts and marched north, along the lake, seeking a suitable spot to defend. Upon reaching the narrow crossing around the sound connecting Lakes Pskov and Peipus, he decided to march through it and began deployment on the eastern shore. Both flanks were occupied by Alexander’s and Andrey’s druzhina, the princes’ mounted retinue and the most valuable of all Novgorodian troops. The centre comprised predominantly of the city’s militia, supplemented by the princes’ own footmen. On the right side, Alexander placed a small unit of horse archers, of unknown origin, but most likely from the Kipchak or Cuman region. The total number of his troops probably counted a little more than 5,000 men. Soon, Bishop Hermann of Dorpat arrived on the battlefield. A hurried mobilisation directly affected the Bishop’s numbers, as he lead no more than 2,500 soldiers to the battle. Still, he had several hundred heavily armoured mounted knights of Danish and German origin positioned in the centre, assisted by no more than one hundred Livonian Brothers on their right. A couple of units of regular militia infantry covered the left flank, whilst the second line was comprised of lightly armoured Estionian allied tribesmen held in the reserve. Hermann was aware of his inferior numbers, but also knew the value of a devastating heavy cavalry charge which, under favourable conditions, was able to rout entire units in a matter of minutes. The battle started, when the bulk of Hermann’s host was halfway through the sound. He commanded the charge of heavy cavalry, hoping to use the momentum to break Alexander’s centre. Charging in a wedge formation, mounted knights struck the terrified Novgorodian militia, dealing massive initial casualties. Melee fighting commenced, and while Herman’s infantry joined the fight, it quickly became clear, that Alexander’s centre had yet to break, despite sustaining considerable damage. This was the time for the Novgorodian prince to take an active part in the battle. He sent horse archers to disrupt the enemy lines, while his own retinue, along with his brothers, advanced on both flanks, performing a pincer movement in an attempt to envelop Hermann’s troops. When the Estonian auxiliary infantry realized, that the Bishop’s battle plan was too optimistic, they began to waver, and upon a brief engagement with the enemy, they gradually fled the battlefield. Alexander’s retinue finished their envelopment and the slaughter began. Some Livonian brothers and other knights managed to break through the encirclement and retreat, but many fell, including Bishop Hermann. The casualties were probably quite similar on both sides, but Alexander’s army was considerably bigger and well-motivated, so while the infantry in the centre endured the heavy cavalry charge he could take advantage of his resources and overwhelm the inferior numbers of the enemy. The peace negotiations that followed restored the former borders, as Alexander was focused on defending his own territory rather than conquering the west. The Livonian Order was considerably weakened, and soon had to face multiple native rebellions throughout the Eastern Baltic. The Christianisation process of the indigenous people took many more lives and lasted for another sixty years. The Battle of the Lake Peipus boosted Alexander’s popularity and became probably his most notable achievement, enabling him to retain his position as Prince of Novgorod and eventually lead the Russian principalities through the difficult times of the Mongol Invasions. His political and military abilities lead him to be hailed as national hero and one of the most recognized figures in Russian history.