Juhan Kreem

(Tallinn Town Archives, Estonia)

Teutonic Order in Livonia: Diverging Historiographic Traditions


The foundations of the modern Baltic scholarship were laid by the Baltic-German historians in the nineteenth century. The Livonian Middle Ages were one of the favourite fields of research for them because of many reasons. Firstly, the German population in Estonia and Latvia had its origin in the crusade of the thirteenth century (1199-1227). Secondly, the Middle Ages were the time of so called independence (mittelalterliche Selbständigkeit) of the Livonian confederation. The time of German Hansa was also the most flourishing period in the history of Livonian towns. The Russification at the end of the nineteenth century further stimulated the study of the Middle Ages where the privileges of the provinces originated from.

Therefore one of the principal powers in medieval Livonia, the Teutonic Order (1237-1561), was naturally the object of an active interest. The questions clustered mainly in the fields of legal and political history. Firstly, why were the developments in Livonia so different from those in Prussia? In Livonia the Teutonic Order inherited the position of the Sword-brothers, and thus never reached overall acceptance to its hegemony. Despite of the Order's power, it was frequently forced to acknowledge the obedience to the Archbishop of Riga. On the other hand, the Masters of the Order failed to concentrate the power inside the order into their own hands and depended greatly on the council of the commanders. These peculiarities were outlined by Oskar Stavenhagen already in the beginning of this century.

The compromising attitude towards the Reformation was a topic, treated by Leonid Arbusow jr. in his study on the Reformation in Livonia. Unlike the Teutonic Order in Prussia, the Livonian branch never secularised itself. However, it was forced to allow the preaching of the new religion. In connection with the inner weakness of the Livonian confederation, its foreign relations, and especially in the sixteenth century were studied. The outbreak of the Livonian war in 1558 and the dissolution of the earlier political structures by 1561, generated the search for the guilty party in history-writing.

The Livonian crusade (e.g. the times before the coming of the Teutonic Order to Livonia) and the sixteenth century (especially the dissolution of the Livonian confederation) are still the most thoroughly studied periods in the history of medieval Livonia.

The interwar national historiographies were from their outset in confrontation with the concepts of the Baltic-German tradition. For example the crusade was treated not as an act of civilising of the barbarous locals, but as an aggression. The General claim was not only to rewrite the history from the viewpoint of the Estonians, but even more to write it about Estonians. The national border with Latvia further fragmented the study of medieval Livonia. Thus the main interest in Estonian national historiography turned towards agrarian history, because until the middle of the nineteenth century most of the Estonians were peasants. In Estonia the general interest shifted to the later periods: none of the PhD dissertations defended at Tartu University between the two World Wars was on the Middle Ages. As an exception only the book by Hans Kruus on the Livonian war should be pointed out.

Agrarian history remained topical in Estonia after the WW II, during the Soviet occupation. The studies by Enn Tarvel and Herbert Ligi touched also the economic aspects of the rule of the Order. The study of narrative sources of the Order, which were undertaken by Sulev Vahtre, are exceptional in this context. His thesis treated the Livonian younger Rhyme Chronicle, the main source for the rebellion of the Estonians in 1343. Enn Tarvel later also turned to the study of the narrative sources, namely the chronicle of Henry of Livonia.

In the eighties, two students of Enn Tarvel, Jüri Kivimäe and Priit Raudkivi concentrated their research on the influence of the Order on the trade with the East and the development of the Livonian Landtag respectively. Recently, Priit Raudkivi in turn has encouraged some of his students to deal with the topics of the Teutonic Order. There is by now some work done on the prosopography of the Order by Ursula Vent, and more is to come from this school on narrative sources.

The developments in the study of the Teutonic Order which took place in Germany in the sixties, when the Order as a phenomenon became an object of study, have not found their counterpart in Estonia. Curiously enough, in spite of the central role of the Teutonic Order in the history of medieval Livonia, relatively few studies are specifically devoted to its history. Most of the work still consists of the articles by Manfred Hellmann, Norbert Angermann, Klaus Neitmann, Udo Arnold et al. Even today we lack the general history of the Teutonic Order in Livonia. The monographic studies have concentrated more on the political history of the Livonian confederation as a whole. The only field which seems to be covered somehow is prosopography. After the pioneering work of Leonid Arbusow sen., there is a recent reference manual by Lutz Fenske and Klaus Militzer.

For the Estonian history-writing the topic of the Order has clearly been alien. Only in recent years the German element in Estonian history has been conceived as “our.” Instead of the national history the concept of Landesgeschichte is emerging, and the traditionally German-dominated topics are studied.


Select bibliography:

For further bibliography see:

Lampe, Karl H. (Bearb. von Klemens Wieser). Bibliographie des Deutschen Ordens bis 1959. (Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte des Deutschen Ordens Bd. 3.) Bonn, 1975. S. 120-154.

Weiss, Hellmuth. “Baltische Bibliographie. Schrifttum über Estland und Lettland in Auswahl,” in: Zeitschrift für Ostforschung Bd. 3-31. (1954-1982).

Arbusow, Leonid jr. Die Einführung der Reformation in Liv-, Est- und Kurland. Leipzig, 1921.

Arbusow, Leonid sen. "Die im Deutschen Orden in Livland vertretenen Geschlechter," in: Jahrbuch für Genealogie, Heraldik und Sphragistik 1899. Mitau 1901, S. 27-136; Nachtrag 1907/8, Mitau 1910, S. 33-64.

Arnold, Udo (Hrsg.). Stadt und Orden. Das Verhältnis des Deutschen Ordens zu den Städten in Livland, Preussen und in Deutschen Reich. (Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte des Deutschen Ordens. Bd. 44.) Marburg, 1993. For Livonia are especially relevant the contributions by Klaus Neitmann, Manfred Hellmann and Reinhard Vogelsang.

Angermann, Norbert (Hrsg.). Wolter von Plettenberg. Der grösste Ordensmeister Livlands. (Schriftenreihe Nordost-Archiv. Heft 21.) Lüneburg, 1985.

Fenske, Lutz; Militzer, Klaus. (Hrsg.) Ritterbrüder im Livländischen Zweig des Deutschen Ordens. (Quellen und Studien zur Baltischen Geschichte. Bd. 12.) Köln, Böhlau, 1993.

Hellmann, Manfred. "Die Stellung des livländischen Ordenszweiges zur Gesamtpolitik des Deutschen Ordens vom 13. bis zum 16. Jahrhundert," in: Von Akkon bis Wien. Studien zur Deutschordensgeschichte vom 13. bis zum 20. Jahrhundert. Festschrift zum 90. Geburtstag von Althochmeister P. Dr. Marian Tumler O.T. am 21. Oktober 1977. (Quellen und Studien zur Geschichte des Deutschen Ordens Bd 20.) Marburg 1978, S. 6-13.

Kivimäe, Jüri. “Narva küsimus Liivi Ordu Poliitikas aastail 1494-1535,” [Narva in the politics of the Livonian Branch of the Teutonic Order 1494-1535.] in: Teaduste Akadeemia Toimetised, Nr. 1(1981) lk. 29-42; Nr 2.(1981) lk. 189-192.

Kruus, Hans. Vene-Liivi sõda (1558-1561.) [Russian-Livonian war 1558-1561.] Tartu, 1924.

Ligi, Herbert. Eesti talurahva olukord ja klassivõitlus Liivi Sõja algul (1558-1561). [The state of the Estonian peasants an the class-struggle in the beginning of Livonina War 1558-1561.] Tallinn, 1961.

Raudkivi, Priit. Maapäeva kujunemine. Petükk Liivimaa 14.-15. sajandi ajaloost. [The formation of Landtag. A Chapter in the history of Livonia in the fourteenth and fifteenth century.] Tallinn, 1991.

Stavenhagen, Oskar. "Johann Wolthuss von Herse, 1470-71 Meister des Deutschen Ordens zu Livland," in: Mittteilungen aus dem Gebiete der Geschichte Liv-, Esth- und Kurlands. 17. (1900), S. 1-88.

Stavenhagen, Oskar. "Der Kampf des deutschen Ordens in Livland um den livländischen Einheitsstaat im 14. Jahrhundert." in: Baltische Monatschrift LIII (1902) S. 146-159; 209-228.

Vahtre, Sulev. Jüriöö. [St. George’s night.] Tallinn, 1980.

Vent, Ursula. “Lisandusi Saksa Ordu Liivimaa haru isikkoosseisule: Ordu vaimulikkond 13-15. sajandil,” [Additions to the prosopography of Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order: the clerics of the Order from the thirteenth till the fifteenth century.] in: Acta Historica Tallinnensia, 1. (1997) lk. 3-19.