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5: Internal Disintegration and Foreign Penetration

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In the first half of the eleventh century, the plan for creating a united West Slavic State as a check to German advance, tried first under Polish and then under Czech leadership, had ultimately failed. Alarmed by Bretislav’s initiative, Germany, under Henry III, even gave some quite exceptional assistance to the son of Mieszko II, Casimir, when he restored Poland’s integrity and reorganized her culturally after the crisis following his father s tragic death. But already under his son, Boleslaw II (1058 1079), called “the Bold,” Poland rapidly recovered the position held by Boleslaw I. Siding with the Papacy in its great struggle against the Empire, Poland once more opposed German predominance in Central Europe, while Bohemia took exactly the opposite stand.

    At the outset, Poland seemed to be eminently successful. Under Boleslaw II she was again occupying a leading position in East Central Europe, and she at least temporarily exercised a decisive influence upon the political situation of the neighboring countries, including Kiev. Cooperating with Gregory VII, whose reforms contributed to the development of the Polish Church, Boleslaw the Bold also regained the royal dignity. In 1076, shortly before Canossa, he was crowned as king, thus reaffirming Poland’s complete independence of the Empire. Therefore it is hard to explain why it was precisely a conflict with one of the leaders of the hierarchy, Stanislas, Bishop of Cracow (now Poland’s capital instead of Gniezno), which caused the king s fall. After the execution of the bishop, who was soon to become the nation s patron saint, Boleslaw II was expelled and died in exile.

    There are some indications that the opposition against the king was supported by Bohemia where Bretislav, after his initial triumphs, had already been forced by a German invasion to recognize the overlordship of Henry III, and where his son and successor, Vratislav (1061—1092), now sided with Henry IV against the Pope. As a reward, he too, the first among Bohemia’s rulers, received a royal crown in 1086, but only personally and from the Emperor, so that the connection of his country with Germany became even closer.

    The Polish Piasts did not resume the royal title for more than two hundred years. After the miserable reign of Boleslaw II’s brother, however, who went over to the imperial camp, his nephew, another Boleslaw surnamed “Wrymouth,” as soon as he gained control of the whole country in 1102, fought most energetically against all German attempts to limit his sovereignty. Emperor Henry V was defeated before Wroclaw (Breslau) when he invaded Silesia in 1109. During the following twenty years of his reign, Boleslaw III completed the conquest and Christianization of Pomerania, restoring Poland’s access to the Baltic and extending his influence as far as the island of Rügen, an old center of Slavic culture.

    Thus the German advance which the pagan Slavic tribes between the Elbe and the Oder were unable to check in spite of their repeated revolts, seemed definitely halted by another Catholic power whose relations with the Latin West were already so well established that it was a chronicler of French origin who described the achievements of Boleslaw III with due praise. Before dying in 1138 he fixed in his will an order of succession which was supposed to safeguard the unity of the country in spite of the assignment of hereditary duchies to his numerous sons. He hoped to accomplish this by deciding that Cracow, together with the center of the realm and with Pomerania, would always be held by the eldest member of the dynasty. As usual, such a “seniorate” proved a complete failure. A few years later Poland entered a long period of dynastic division, with ample opportunity for the Empire to interfere in her internal problems again.

    The danger was so much greater, since the age of Frederick Barbarossa was marked by a new wave of German imperialism which was not at all limited to the domination of Italy amidst a new struggle with the papacy. It was then that the conquest of all the Slavs between Germany and Poland was completed both by the Emperor himself and by his Saxon rivals of the Welf family. Western Pomerania was also lost to Poland. Bohemia, on the other hand, where dynastic troubles causing frequent interventions by Henry V had started even earlier, continued under Vladislav II (1140 1174) her policy of cooperation with the Empire. After supporting Frederick I against the Lombards, in 1158 that Czech prince again received a royal crown from the Emperor. This time it was a hereditary crown, combined with the formal right to participate in the imperial elections. But Bohemia’s inclusion in the Empire, though as its foremost and most independent member, became even more evident.

    A year earlier, Barbarossa, invading Poland, had also forced one of her princes to pay him homage. But that humiliation proved only temporary, and even the province of Silesia, which Boleslaw IV, under German pressure, had to restore to the sons of his expelled elder brother, did not cease to be a part of Poland. That border region was, however, exposed to German influence and to the influx of German colonists more than any other of the Polish duchies. But the fateful process of German colonization had hardly started here in the later twelfth century, though in Bohemia it was already in steady progress, as was well evidenced around 1170 by the famous edict of Sobeslav II. As did the other Premyslids, he protected the settlers against any anti-German feelings of the people and granted them far-reaching privileges. They indeed contributed to the economic progress of the country, especially that of the cities, but not without seriously endangering national unity.

    In these early days that danger was not yet apparent, and when in 1197, after another period of internal struggles and imperial interventions, Premysl Otakar I, a son of Vladislav II, became king of Bohemia, the country seemed stronger than ever before and was indeed for three generations to play a prominent role in general European affairs. But that could happen only in connection with internal difficulties which affected the Empire at the turn of the century and which were skillfully utilized by Premysl. Supporting in turn the various rival candidates for the German crown, in 1212 he finally obtained from Frederick II the so-called Golden Bull of Sicily which confirmed Bohemia’s privileged position in the Empire and greatly reduced the obligations of her king. Nevertheless she entered the thirteenth century in close connection with all the vicissitudes of German policy and with an already very numerous and influential German population.

    Entirely different were the contemporary developments in Poland. The rather artificial rule of the “seniorate” was definitely disregarded when the successor of Boleslaw IV, his next brother, Mieszko III, called “the Old” (1173—1177), lost Cracow to the youngest son of Wrymouth, Casimir the Just. These two princes were by far the most prominent representatives of their generation. Mieszko, limited to Greater Poland, although until his death in 1202 he time and again tried to recover Cracow, was a defender of a strong monarchical power and for that very reason unpopular among the clergy and the knighthood, both of which were growing in influence. On the contrary, Casimir, who united Little Poland with Mazovia and Cuyavia, was supported by these new forces. His desire to make all his possessions, including Cracow, hereditary in his line, meant a basic change in his father s conception. Imperial and even papal confirmation of that change proved much less important than the attitude of the native hierarchy and aristocracy. At the Assembly of Leczyca in 1180, Casimir granted a first charter of liberties to the Polish church, and the leaders of the main clans into which the Polish nobility, not yet organized as a formal class, remained traditionally divided, played an important part in all political decisions.

    Proud of her royal tradition, all Poland remained one ecclesiastical province under the same dynasty, but the various lines of the Piasts came to identify their interests with those of the individual duchies more and more. All princes of any importance had the ambition of ruling in Cracow, which kept the prestige of a political center, but Casimir’s line never lost that position except for very short interludes. The princes of Silesia, the eldest branch of the dynasty, and those of Greater Poland, the descendants of Mieszko III, were naturally more interested in problems of the West where the Germans were now Poland’s neighbors along the whole frontier, which they tried to push back from the Oder line. Casimir the Just and his successors, ruling over the whole eastern half of the country, had to face different issues: the defense against continuous raids of the still pagan Baltic tribes in Prussia and Lithuania, and the relations with the principalities into which the Kievan State was divided. One of them, created in the originally Polish border region which had changed masters several times and now had its center in Halich, was the object of Casimir’s special interest and again came to a large extent under Polish influence as well as Hungarian.

    Casimir’s reign was glorified in the first chronicle written by a native Pole, Master Vincentius Kadlubek, who later became bishop of Cracow. His work shows the great cultural progress which Poland had made in the last century and indicates her intimate connection with Western Europe, including France and Italy, where Vincentius had been educated. In his political philosophy he represents the ideas of a limitation of monarchical power by the nation, and of close cooperation with the church.

    Both ideas are reflected in the events which followed Casimir’s death. It was the support of the aristocracy which decided in favor of the succession of his young son Leszek, called “the White” (1194—1227), who continued his policy. And one of the most important decisions of the new ruler was to place Poland once more, in 1207, under the protection of the Holy See. Even under an Emperor as powerful as Frederick II, Germany did not think any longer of interfering with Polish problems or of dominating a country which, though politically divided, was a member of the state system directly controlled by Innocent III.

    Poland’s own power was indeed greatly reduced through a disintegration which, however, was exclusively the result of territorial divisions among the numerous branches of the national dynasty. Parallel with these divisions, a consciousness of community was growing and this frequently united even the quarreling princes in joint efforts. Therefore the prospects of the future were not so dark as they might appear at the threshold of the thirteenth century. Being an outpost of Western Latin civilization Poland, even divided, was an insurmountable obstacle to further German advance.


The disintegration of the Kingdom of Poland, dangerous as it was, did not prove final. For various reasons an apparently similar process in the neighboring Kievan State had lasting consequences. Here the dynastic division based upon an unfortunate order of succession had started almost a hundred years earlier. It is true that after half a century of confusion which followed the death of Yaroslav the Wise, and which became particularly critical after the death of his eldest son Iziaslav in 1078, serious efforts were made to revise a situation which was leading to endless dynastic struggles. Cooperation among all the descendants of Rurik, including those who had settled in the colonial area of the northeast, was indeed urgent, since after the Pechenegs, which had at last been defeated, an even more dangerous Asiatic tribe, the Polovtsy or Cumans, penetrated into the steppes north of the Black Sea. The Kievan State was once more cut off from that sea, and the various principalities of the south suffered from repeated invasions.

    It was under these circumstances that at the suggestion of Vladimir Monomach, who had defeated his rivals with the help of the Polovtsy, a conference of all the Russian princes was held in Lubech, near Kiev, in 1097. This conference changed the law of succession, which had been based upon the rule of seniority and the rotation of the various princes from one principality to another. From now on all the principalities were regarded as hereditary, but no clear decision was made with respect to the highly important issue as to who should occupy the leading position of grand prince, which remained connected with Kiev, although the title itself hardly appears in the contemporary sources.

    Not even the solemn promise of keeping peace among themselves was kept by all the princes, and their next conference, held at Uvetichi in 1100, had to punish one of them who had seized and cruelly blinded his cousin. And it was only thirteen years later that Vladimir Monomach, who could claim the rank of grand prince according to the rule of primogeniture, succeeded in occupying Kiev with the consent of the others and in holding it until his death in 1125.

    Under the brilliant reign of this remarkable prince, all the Eastern Slavs were united for the last time in one body politic. Without being a completely homogeneous or strongly centralized unit, it was, however, a community that was based upon the same culture and similar political principles as had prevailed under Vladimir’s grandfather, Yaroslav. The code of law, the famous Rus’ka Pravda, compiled under the latter and developed under his successors, continued to govern relations among all classes of society from the boyars in the prince’s druzhina (following) and duma (council), now hereditary landowners, to the various groups of peasants free and slave. The ecclesiastical organization under the Metropolitan of Kiev also continued to be an element of unity. But it was precisely under Monomach, whose very surname points to a growing Byzantine influence, that the consequences of the Greek schism also became evident in the Russian church after about sixty years. A growing prejudice against the Catholic West already appears in the Primary Russian Chronicle, completed by Kievan monks in 1113 Vladimir’s coming into power. And in spite of repeated matrimonial ties between the Ruriks and various Catholic dynasties, including the Polish, that religious prejudice increased the political difficulties in the relations with the Western neighbors.

    Nevertheless, even then the break between the two centers of European Christian civilization, Rome and Byzantium, was not yet considered final. On the other hand, the Greek Empire of the Comneni, itself in close relations with Western powers, was even less securely in a position to control the policies of Kievan Russia than it had been in the days of the Macedonian dynasty. Fully independent of any imperial authority, the Russian princes were going to participate in Greek affairs until the end of the twelfth century. Sometimes they were divided in their political sympathies, but this affected conditions in Russia only in the times of internal disintegration that followed Vladimir.

    The interesting autobiographical details contained in Vladimir’s will give evidence of the restless activity of a ruler who did his best both to defend the whole country against the Polovtsy, then the only real external danger, and to appease the rivalries of all those princes who remained under his supreme control. Appearances of unity continued under his son Mstislav, but after his death in 1132, and even more so after that of Mstislav’s brother Yaropolk in 1139, there set in a struggle for Kiev, not only among Monomach’s descendants but also between them and other lines of the dynasty, which completely destroyed old Russia’s political organization.

    The sack of Kiev in 1169 is usually considered the final blow, not only because the capital and its prestige never fully recovered from that first destruction in a fratricidal war, but even more so because the prince who conquered Kiev on that occasion did not care to rule there and returned to his original principality. That prince was Andrew Bogolubsky, whose father George Dolgoruky, a son of Vladimir Monomach, had controlled Kiev temporarily, but who had already been primarily interested in his hereditary possessions in the distant Volga region.

    In the following three quarters of a century, Kiev changed masters so many times (more than thirty) and so obviously was no longer the real political center of even a loose federation of principalities, that usually the rise of three new centers of Russian history Halich, Novgorod, and Suzdal is strongly emphasized. It must be remembered, however, that until the Mongol invasion, which in 1240 interrupted the series of princes of Kiev for more than a hundred years, the importance of that original nucleus of medieval Russia did not disappear completely. There always remained the possibility that under a prominent ruler who would add his hereditary lands to Kiev, the city could again become a symbol of unity among all the Eastern Slavs.

    Geographically, it would have been most natural to unite that region of the lower Dnieper with that of the upper Dnieper, which also remained a not insignificant center of Russian life. If it receives so little attention, it is because the White Russian principalities of that region used to show very little political initiative. The most important of these principalities, with its capital Polotsk on the upper Dvina, continued to be governed by a side line of the dynasty which was never seriously interested in Kiev’s fate but rather in trade relations with the Baltic region. The most active of the princes of Smolensk, Monomach’s great-grandson Mstislav, after failing to hold Kiev, eventually transferred his line to the distant southwestern corner of old Russia.

    It was here that under his son Roman, who at the end of the twelfth century united Volhynia with Halich, a particularly important center was established in the immediate neighborhood of Poland and Hungary. At first supported by the Poles, Roman was killed in a battle against them in 1205, and the struggle for his heritage, which he left to two minor sons, led to a joint interference of both of these Catholic countries. The project of creating there a kingdom of “Galicia” (the Latinized name of the Halich region), under a Polish-Hungarian dynasty and papal overlordship, was doomed to failure, and finally Roman’s son Daniel consolidated his power so that he could even claim the throne of Kiev. But in the midst of a hard fight against political conquest by the Catholic West, the cultural and social ties with that West were developed more than ever before. In the light of the local chronicle, the boyars who supported Roman’s family appear strangely similar to the Polish knights and were gaining a similar position, limiting monarchical power.

    In this new state of Halich and Volhynia, which was closely associated with the European community, as in the Kiev region the population was “Little Russian” or Ruthenian, according to the Latin sources, or Ukrainian, according to the present-day terminology. They differed from the White Russians, and even more from the ancestors of the Great Russians, the Russians in the specific sense of today. Out of the large group of East Slavic tribes whose original names were almost entirely forgotten, three distinct nations were thus being formed.

    But even among the Great Russians of the North East, two entirely different centers developed as a result of the disintegration of the Kievan State. One of them originated within the limits of the original Rus, in the Novgorod region where the Varangians had first appeared under Rurik. In spite of a colonial activity which soon reached the Arctic Ocean and later even the Urals, that center did not move into these distant Finnish regions but remained identified with the famous old metropolis in the original territory of the Sloven tribe. Equally important was the fact that amidst all the dynastic troubles of the Kievan State, the rich commercial city of Novgorod succeeded in gaining an exceptional autonomous position. No line of the Ruriks was ever established there. The authority of the grand prince was already limited in the days of Kiev’s real power. A strange republican constitution was gradually developed, democratic in its form, oligarchic in its essence, with the bishop and the governor (posadnik) in the leading positions and the general assembly (veche) theoretically supreme. Even more than the White Russians of Polotsk, the Great Russians of Novgorod had close trade relations with the West. The danger of Latin conquest, after the establishment of German knights on the Baltic shores, created a strong political antagonism. But cultural intercourse with the Catholic West was another consequence of such a situation which also seemed to draw that section of the old Rus into the European community.

    Entirely different was the situation in the last center of Russian life which had been created by the colonial expansion of other Great Russian tribes that had never played an important part in their original home east of the middle Dnieper and had moved into their new, practically unlimited settlements “beyond the forests” in the basin of the upper Volga. The sparse and backward Finnish population was submerged by the Slavic colonists under the leadership of princes who here, on new and hard grounds, were never limited by boyars or popular assemblies. On the contrary, it was under the autocratic rule of Dolgoruky’s and Bogolubsky’s numerous descendants—the latter’s son and successor, Vsevolod, was surnamed “Big Nest” because of his many children that the new Russia centering in Suzdal, which superseded the earliest colonial outpost in Rostov, grew into a strong centralized power. Culturally, even the influence of Byzantium was hardly experienced in these remote lands, and no contact with the Western world had ever existed. Whether that colony of one of the East European peoples, Eastern Europe in the geographical sense, would ever join East Central Europe in a general European community, was a question to be decided by the political events of the thirteenth century.


It was in the thirteenth century that the crusading movement, typical of the medieval tradition in general, reached its climax. But that same century also saw the most shocking misuses and distortions of the crusading idea which, among other things, deeply affected the relations between Western and Eastern Europe. The first example was indeed the tragic turn of the Fourth Crusade. First, in 1202 it was diverted against Catholic Hungary in order to conquer Zara, the capital of Dalmatia, for the Venetians. Eventually, in 1203 -1204, it was turned against the Eastern Christian Empire. Though Greek Orthodox, the latter was prepared to discuss with Rome the possibilities of peaceful reunion and to become an indispensable ally in any real crusade against the Muslim danger.

    It is well known that instead of promoting the cause of both union and crusade, as Pope Innocent III had hoped in spite of his original indignation, the conquest of Constantinople and the foundation of a Latin Empire there resulted in a struggle against the Greek Empire, which had been temporarily transferred to Nicaea in Asia Minor. This struggle absorbed the forces of the Catholic West for more than half a century, only to end in defeat, with Latins and Greeks farther apart than ever before and the imperial idea badly discredited.

    For that very reason these events had important repercussions among the free nations of the Balkan Peninsula. Since the Greek Empire, in spite of the reconquest of its capital in 1261, never fully recovered from the catastrophe of 1204, and since the Latin Empire of Constantinople, with all its vassal states, was throughout its existence busy with fighting the Greeks, entirely new opportunities for the independent development of countries like Bulgaria and Serbia appeared. Furthermore, just before the Fourth Crusade, both Slavic nations had made important steps in the direction of their complete liberation and political organization.

    Under Stephen Nemanya (1168—1196) the Serbs were at last united in a national state created around the Rashka region hence called Rascia in the Latin sources. The Nemanyid dynasty was to rule it for two hundred years, until the Ottoman conquest. Already under Nemanya’s son and successor, Stephen II, the Serbian church was placed under an autocephalous archbishop. The first of these ecclesiastical leaders was the king’s brother Sava, who became the patron saint of the country. He succeeded in eliminating the former Bulgarian influence from its religious life although at the same time the Bulgarians, revolting in 1185 against Byzantine rule, regained their independence and again created a powerful kingdom under the Asenids, from Tirnovo, Bulgaria’s new political and cultural center. That dynasty was of “Vlach” (Wallachian) origin, which is significant because early in the thirteenth century the Wallachians also created a first principality in what is now southern Rumania and strengthened Bulgaria by their cooperation.

    It is an exaggeration to speak of a second Bulgarian Empire because the situation of the tenth century did not repeat itself. There was now no chance whatever of Bulgaria’s taking the place of the empire of Constantinople. But when Latins and Greeks started fighting for that Empire, the Bulgarian neighbor state was rapidly growing in power under Asen’s brother, Joannitsa, whom the Greeks called Kaloioannes (1197—1207), and it could be a welcome ally for either of the rival Empires.

    The importance of both Bulgaria and Serbia was fully recognized by Pope Innocent III, who considered the withdrawal of the Greek Emperor and the Orthodox Patriarch to Nicaea an excellent opportunity to reunite these two nations with the Catholic church. Continuing, therefore, the negotiations with their rulers which had begun even before the Fourth Crusade, he offered them royal crowns as a reward for religious union and hoped to include them in the state system controlled by the Holy See. As usual, however, the results of these merely temporary unions depended on the political situation, and the Latins established in Constantinople, instead of accepting Bulgarian cooperation, made the error of resuming the policy of Byzantium and her claims of overlordship toward their northern neighbor.

    The result was an unnecessary war with Kaloioannes, in which the first Latin Emperor, Baldwin of Flanders, was defeated near Adrianople in 1205 and died in prison. His brother and successor, Henry, was more successful in the protracted struggle against Bulgaria but died in 1216. These wars greatly increased the difficulties which the Latin conquerors of Constantinople had to face, since under Ivan Asen II (1218-1241) Bulgaria made an alliance against them with the Greek Empire of Nicaea, thus encircling the reduced territory of Romania which the Latin emperors controlled. The Bulgars also felt strong enough to fight the separate Greek state which soon after the fall of Constantinople had been created in Epirus, and thus they extended their territory through Macedonia into present-day Albania.

    Bulgaria’s independence was now so well established that in spite of hard struggles on practically all frontiers she survived the extinction of the Asenid dynasty in 1257 and the return of the Greeks to Constantinople under the Palaeologi four years later. But under the Terterids and Shishmanids who continued the line of her rulers, Bulgaria again became a minor power, more or less within her present frontiers.

    Along with Serbia she was also threatened from the north because Hungary, after participating under King Andrew II in the Fifth Crusade (1217), became more and more interested in the Balkans and in the possibility of expansion on formerly Byzantine territory, now cut up among smaller states. Serbia proper continued to develop amidst all difficulties until Stephen Urosh II (1282—1321) made her the leading power in the Balkans, expanding in her turn toward Macedonia. But the Serbs of Bosnia could not be united with the kingdom of the Nemanyids because in that isolated mountain region the influence of Croatia and after the Croat-Hungarian union of Hungary continued to be predominant. Simultaneously with the rise of the Nemanyids, the Bosnian tribes had also formed an independent state under ban Kulin (1180—1204), but without succeeding in keeping it free from Hungarian suzerainty.

    In the case of Bosnia, the decisive importance of the religious factor is particularly evident. Situated at the crossroads of Catholicism, which dominated in Croatia as well as in Hungary, and of Greek Orthodoxy, which after the brief interlude at the beginning of the century remained the national Church of Serbia and Bulgaria, Bosnia had special difficulties in deciding her ecclesiastical allegiance. The partisans of the Bogomil doctrine, who were called Patarenes in Bosnia, seemed to have a special chance under these circumstances, and indeed they made so much progress toward the middle of the thirteenth century that a crusade was directed against them under Hungarian leadership, resulting, of course, in a strengthening of Hungary’s overlordship. It lasted almost a hundred years before Bosnia was able to reaffirm her autonomy, but that small intermediary region never could form a separate nation.

    The fact that Serbia and Bulgaria finally remained Orthodox did not improve their relations with the restored Byzantine Empire. And the two Slavic kingdoms of the Balkans did not follow the example of Michael Palaeologus, when in order to avoid another Latin aggression planned by the Anjous of Sicily, he concluded a religious union with Rome at the Council of Lyons in 1274. Limited to the Greek Empire in spite of attempts to include the whole of South Eastern Europe, the Union of Lyons did not endure in Constantinople for more than a few years. But even Orthodox Christendom was divided in the Balkans for political reasons when at the turn of the century the rise of the Ottoman Turks suddenly became an alarming threat.

    In order to understand their amazing progress in the following century, it must be remembered that in addition to the distrust and resentment between Greeks and Latins, there was in South Eastern Europe a permanent tension between the Eastern Empire, which under the Palaeologi gradually became a national Greek State, and the national states of Bulgarians and Serbs. In spite of their Orthodoxy, they claimed full autonomy even in the ecclesiastical sphere, contrary to the pretensions of the Patriarchs of Constantinople. On the other hand, because of their Orthodoxy, they could not count on the support of their Catholic neighbors in the Danubian region, which would have been badly needed to protect the Balkan countries. On the contrary, Hungary, despite many interests she had in common with them, and particularly in view of the growing Venetian pressure, was ready to seize any opportunity to include Serbia and even Bulgaria, together with Croatia and Bosnia, and soon too Wallachia, in a chain of vassal states of the Crown of St. Stephen. In this case, too, the crusading idea frequently served as a pretext for aggression against Orthodox neighbors, although it should rather have been a reason for the cooperation of all Christians against Mohammedanism, as was frequently pointed out by the Papacy.


A crusading action seemed more justified against the last pagan population of Europe which still survived in the Baltic region and which included both the Balts in the proper sense and the maritime tribes of Finnish race.

    A first step in that direction was the conquest and conversion of Finland proper by Sweden, a comparatively easy undertaking which in the course of the twelfth century considerably enlarged that Scandinavian kingdom and for the following six hundred years extended it as far as the Gulf of Finland. South of that gulf and as far as the mouth of the Memel (Nemunas, Niemen) River, in the region which in the Middle Ages was given the general name of Livonia, Finnish tribes which included the Livs, the Ests, and probably the Curs, were mixed with purely Baltic Letts. But neither of them, ruled by reguli, as their chieftains are called in the contemporary sources, had succeeded in creating any political organization.

    Even so, they were strong enough to resist the Russian pressure toward the Baltic Sea. But toward the end of the twelfth century German knights followed the German merchants from Lübeck who were penetrating into that region. Accompanied by missionaries who soon created a first Catholic bishopric on the shores of the Dvina which was finally established at Riga, a city founded at the mouth of that river in 1201, these Western conquerors considered themselves crusaders against both the pagan natives and the Orthodox neighbors in the east. On the initiative of the third bishop, Albert of Bremen, in 1202 they formed an order of knighthood, similar to those which supported the crusaders in the Holy Land, and called the “Knights of the Sword.” It was decided that they would receive one third of all conquered lands, the rest being directly controlled by the bishops.

    Such an arrangement became a permanent source of conflict between the Order and the hierarchy, especially when, soon after Albert’s death in 1229, Riga was raised to an archbishopric and new bishoprics were gradually founded in the city of Dorpat, in Curland, and on the island of Osilia (Oesel). The rich and powerful city of Riga was a third partner in a rivalry which did not remain exclusively local. For the hierarchy was supported by the Holy See, who wanted to see in Livonia a purely ecclesiastical state under the exclusive authority of the Pope, while the Knights, considering Livonia something like a German colony, were looking for the protection of the Empire. The Papal legates who time and again were sent to Riga, especially William, Bishop of Modena, who played a prominent role in the Baltic region around 1230, never completely succeeded in settling all controversial problems or in protecting the native population against the oppression and exploitation of their German masters.

    The resistance of these native peoples was particularly strong in the north and in the south. The northern Estonian tribes were defeated only with the assistance of the Danes, who in 1219 took the stronghold of Reval which became the capital of Estonia, a province extending to the east as far as the Narva River and which remained under Danish rule for more than a hundred years. The Baltic tribes near the southern border of Livonia, especially the fierce Semigalians, were supported by their closest kin, the Lithuanians, who at the turn of the twelfth century created a pagan state of unexpected strength and power of expansion beyond that border. After years of almost continuous fighting, the Knights of the Sword suffered a crushing defeat in 1236 at the battle of Siauliai, on Lithuanian territory, and their position in Livonia proper became highly critical. It was, therefore, in the following year that they decided to join another German order of knighthood, which was engaged in the conquest of Prussia.

    The importance of that union, which made the Land Master of Livonia a vassal of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, the so-called Knights of the Cross, is apparent in the light of the geographical situation. Along the Baltic coast, in the region of Memel (Klaipeda) at the mouth of the river of that name, the Prussian tribes, belonging to the same ethnic groups as the Lithuanians and the Letts, almost touched the territory of Livonia. Thus, as soon as the conquest of Prussia by the Teutonic Order could be completed, an uninterrupted German-controlled territory would reach from the Vistula to the Gulf of Finland. The junction near Memel was quite narrow and precarious, however, since the Lithuanian lowland, called Samogitia, extended to the sea and formed a wedge between Prussia and Livonia. The conquest of Lithuania therefore became a common aim of both German colonies which approached her from two sides.

    Before Lithuania found herself in that twin Teutonic clutch, however, the domination of the Knights of the Cross had to be well established all over Prussia. The origin of their settlement in that region, which had been very modest, resulted from a fateful decision made by one of the Polish princes, Conrad of Mazovia, the younger brother of Leszek the White. In spite of the cooperation of other Polish princes, he had difficulty in organizing the defense of his duchy against the frequent raids of the pagan Prussians and in promoting their conversion. Therefore he invited the Teutonic Order to settle in his own border district of Cheimno (Kulm) and to use it as a base for the conquest of Prussia.

    The negotiations conducted with the Grand Master of the Order, Hermann von Salza, between 1226 and 1230, resulted in a series of documents, the interpretation of which is highly controversial. Without discussing the problem of the authenticity of some of these charters, it must be pointed out that the approach of either side was entirely different. The Polish prince acted under the assumption that he was simply making a grant to a religious order which would remain under his political authority, both in the Polish territory placed at its disposal and in the Prussian lands to be occupied in the future. The program of the Teutonic Knights was much more ambitious. Founded in Palestine in 1198, they soon lost their interest in the Holy Land where they could not equal the older orders of Templars and Hospitalers. After the failure of their negotiations with King Andrew II of Hungary, who hesitated to accept their conditions for a settlement at the border of Transylvania, they seized the opportunity of creating a German state at the Polish border. This was to be independent of Poland, under the authority not only of the Papacy, because of its ecclesiastical character, but also of the German Empire.

    Hermann von Salza was a close collaborator and adviser of Emperor Frederick II, who even in the matter of the real crusade in Palestine was in open conflict with the Holy See. He considered the local crusading enterprise in the Baltic region to be an excellent opportunity for extending imperial influence in an entirely new direction. With all his troubles in Italy, he was not in a position to continue the eastern expansion of Germany in its original form, which had been stopped at Poland’s western border. But the settlement of German knights in Prussia at her northern frontier encircled the part of Pomerania which still remained Polish with Poland s only outlet to the sea at Gdansk (Danzig). The native princes who under Polish suzerainty governed that province—now a “corridor” between territories controlled by German powers—were the first to realize the danger. While most of the Piasts continued to cooperate with the Order without being aware of its real intentions, Prince Swietopelk of Pomerania supported the Prussians in one of their most violent insurrections against the invaders.

    Both were defeated at the Sirgune River in 1236, but the conquest of one Prussian tribe after another, which started immediately after the arrival of the first Teutonic Knights in the region of Torun in 1230, was to last until 1283. At about the same time, the warlike tribe of the Yatvegians, who belonged to the same ethnic group and together with the Lithuanians had struggled against Germans, Poles, and Russians, was finally destroyed, and their territory, the so-called Podlachia, became a bone of contention between these Christian neighbors and Lithuania.

    In Prussia the German knights organized a state much more centralized than Livonia and under the exclusive control of the Order. Another important difference was the systematic colonization of the whole land from the Vistula to the Memel. This was carried out by German immigrants who settled not only in recently founded cities such as Königsberg and Marienburg (soon to become the Order’s capital), but also in the countryside. There the German peasants absorbed or replaced the native Prussians, who were either exterminated in the ruthless struggle, expelled to Lithuania, or completely Germanized by the conquerors, who even took the Prussian name. The last traces of their language disappeared in the eighteenth century, while the southeastern corner of the German enclave thus formed was colonized by Poles from Mazovia.

    The creation of a new, German Prussia was the most striking success of German colonization. Achieved in the thirteenth century under the pretext of a crusade, it influenced the whole political and ethnic structure of East Central Europe until the present. But it was only part of a much larger movement which without open warfare and in purely Christian lands extended German influence on a much larger scale than did the slow advance of the frontier of the March of Brandenburg which pushed Greater Poland back from the Oder. The German colonization which penetrated into practically all Polish duchies, except remote Mazovia, reached its climax in that same thirteenth century, although it never assumed the same proportions as in Bohemia.

    The numerous references in the contemporary sources to settlements of towns and villages under the ius Teutonicum do not necessarily mean that all these places were entirely new foundations made by exclusively German people. Even urban centers of native character had existed in Poland long before they were developed according to German law, and in many cases purely Polish villages were granted the privileges of that same law. In both cases it meant a better economic organization and important franchises for the people concerned, and therefore, as in Bohemia, it was promoted by the national dynasty. But here, too, the whole process represented a foreign influence which proved particularly dangerous wherever German immigrants arrived in larger numbers, and who were soon to constitute a strong majority in most of the cities.

    More than elsewhere, this became evident in the border region of Silesia, whose western part was gradually Germanized. The political disintegration of the former kingdom made the situation even more serious. It would seem that precisely in the period when the empire had ceased to threaten Poland’s independence directly, a popular movement of colonization would succeed where Germany’s military power had failed.

    Just as in Bohemia, there appeared in Poland, in spite of her dynastic division, a national reaction against the German penetration. Polish knights would blame those princes who too obviously favored the newcomers, and also among the Polish clergy there was a growing resistance against the leading position of the German element in many monasteries and against its influence on ecclesiastical life. But that consciousness of a serious threat to Poland’s development did not really manifest itself before the later part of the thirteenth century when a danger coming from the opposite direction had created conditions even more favorable to the influx of German settlers. It is an exaggeration to believe that the colonization by Poland’s western neighbors was caused by her devastation through the great Mongol invasion toward the middle of the century and subsequent Tartar raids. But it is certainly true that under these conditions experienced settlers from abroad found even more opportunities than before. And it is significant that once more, not Poland alone but all freedom-loving nations in East Central Europe, found themselves under a simultaneous pressure from two sides which interfered with their normal development and seriously reduced their territories.


    Soon after the German conquest of Livonia, and only a few years before the Teutonic Knights moved into Prussia, East Central Europe received a first warning that another wave of Asiatic conquerors was approaching from the East. The huge Eurasian Empire created by Jenghis Khan early in the thirteenth century was supposed to include all peoples of Mongol origin, and it therefore attacked the Polovtsy who for more than a hundred years had controlled the steppes of Eastern Europe. Although they had been a permanent plague for the Kievan State, and although the Russians were proud of their fight against them (which is described in the much discussed Tale of the Host of Igor), some Russian princes whom the Polovtsy asked for help in the critical year of 1223 sided with them against the Mongols, only to share in a crushing defeat at the Kalka River. Asiatic problems, and the death of Jenghis Khan four years later, delayed the revenge of the Mongols who were, however, resolved to take the place of the destroyed Polovtsy in Eastern Europe and to secure the domination of that whole region by bringing the neighboring Russian principalities under their control also.

    The new colonial Russia in the Volga Basin was first invaded and conquered in 1237—1238. But instead of advancing in the direction of Novgorod, which was never taken by the Mongols, the leader of their European expedition, Jenghis Khan’s grandson Batu, turned in 1240 against Kiev, which was destroyed. After also occupying the whole south of Russia, the following year he entered both Poland and Hungary. Even Western Europe was seriously alarmed when one Mongolian army defeated the Poles, first near Cracow and then at Lignica in Silesia, while another gained a great victory over the Hungarians at the Sajo River and advanced as far as the Adriatic. But again Asiatic developments, including the death of the Grand Khan, made the Mongols withdraw. They never returned to Hungary, and after being stopped at Lignica, where Prince Henry the Pious of Wroclaw gave his life in defense of Christendom, they henceforth limited themselves to occasional raids into eastern Poland, sometimes forcing the Russian prince to participate in these invasions as well as in those directed against Lithuania.

    On the contrary, almost all the Russian lands, with the exception of Novgorod and the White Russian principalities in the northwest where Lithuanian influence proved stronger, remained for a long period under Mongol rule. Indirectly they were under the suzerainty of the Grand Khan who resided in faraway Karakorum, in Mongolia proper. Directly they were under the Golden Horde of Kipchak, as the European part of the Mongol Empire was called. That autonomous unit founded by Batu Khan, with its capital at Sarai on the lower Volga, included both the peoples of Asiatic origin in the steppes north of the Black Sea, usually covered by the name of Tartars, and the various Russian principalities under the overlordship of the Khan of Kipchak.

    That Mongol domination was indeed a major catastrophe in the history of Russia. It was that Asiatic impact that alienated her from Europe and, much more than the earlier Byzantine influence, made her different from and opposed to the West. There were, however, important differences in the position of the various parts of Russia. In general, her principalities were left to their former rulers, to the various lines of the Rurik dynasty whose members were simply made vassals of the Khan. Only in exceptional cases where no hereditary line was established, as in Kiev itself and in the lowlands of Podolia, Tartar officials were at the head of the local administration.

    In such cases only the church remained as a guardian of the old tradition, and it was a metropolitan of Kiev who soon after the destruction of the glorious capital went to the Council of Lyons in 1245, asking for help from the Catholic West. Pope Innocent IV was indeed deeply concerned with the Mongol danger at the gates of Catholic Europe. He was also fully aware of the possibilities of religious reunion which any real assistance granted to Orthodox Christendom would open in Russia as well as in the Near East where he negotiated simultaneously with the Greeks of Nicaea. But absorbed by the conflict with the Western Empire, the papacy was powerless against the Mongols, who time and again were even considered possible allies against Arabs or Turks. The papal missions, sent as far as Karakorum with illusionary hopes of conversion, collected precious information about the devastated Russian lands which they had to cross, but only in the case of Halich and Volhynia did any prospects of cooperation, both religious and political, appear.

    In this section of the old Kievan State which continued to have close ties with Catholic Poland and sometimes Hungary also, Tartar domination was opposed from the outset whenever it proved possible to do so, and Tartar influence remained negligible. The state of Daniel, a son of Roman, and his successors must therefore be considered an integral part of the European community, as in the past, and its role in the history of East Central Europe deserves special attention. But Daniel’s earlier hopes of uniting Kiev with his patrimony no longer had any chance of success. On the contrary, the Kiev region, which during the following century of immediate Tartar control completely lost its traditional significance, was separating Daniel’s realm from the eastern parts of Russia, called Great Russia in the Byzantine sources, in contradistinction to Little Russia, i.e., Halich and Volhynia.

    Since the petty principalities into which the Chernigov (Severian) region was divided were of limited importance, the new Great Russian State, whose formation is the main feature of Eastern European history in the thirteenth century, was constituted by the principalities of the colonial Volga region, where Vladimir-on-the-Klazma now supplanted Suzdal as the main center.

    Among the descendants of Vsevolod Big Nest, who ruled in that vast region, Yaroslav, whose brother George had been killed when fighting the Mongols in 1238, occupied after him the leading position and inaugurated a shrewd policy of appeasing the new masters of Eastern Europe. Twice he undertook the perilous and exhausting journey to the Grand Khan’s Asiatic residence, only to perish on the return in 1246, as did so many other Russian princes of the Mongol period during or after such visits. It now became a rule that the Khan would decide who would occupy the position of grand prince in Russia, and after a few years of trouble that decision was taken in 1252 in favor of Yaroslav’s son, the famous Alexander Nevsky. But he no longer had any pretension to claim, as his predecessors did, the ancient throne of Kiev also. On the contrary, he definitely limited his Russia to the new body politic around Vladimir.

    It is true that before ruling there he had been accepted as prince by the people of Novgorod, and his very surname recalled his victory over the Swedes, gained in 1240 at the Neva River, where he defended the republic against the Scandinavian masters of Finland. Two years later he also defeated the German Knights of Livonia in another battle on frozen Lake Peipus. But since these early contacts with the Catholic West had been exclusively hostile, he turned decidedly toward the East, showed no interest in papal appeals in favor of ecclesiastical union, but on the contrary tried to strengthen his position by loyally cooperating with his Tartar overlords.

    Such cooperation resulted in the privilege of collecting the heavy taxes which the Khan required from all Russian princes. It was convenient for the Tartars to receive the whole amount through the intermediation of the Grand Prince, who in turn used that rather unpleasant task for the purpose of controlling the other princes and uniting the new Russia under his own authority. After his death in 1263 such a policy was continued by Alexander’s less prominent successors, the main problem being which prince would receive the supreme power connected with the possession of Vladimir in addition to his hereditary apanage. In the absence of any recognized order of succession, their rivalry could only lead to continuous Tartar interference, which was particularly evident in the long-lasting struggle for supremacy between the princes of Tver and those of Moscow.

    The first of these two main principalities, which seemed to have a right of seniority, succeeded in controlling Vladimir with few interruptions until 1319. But Moscow, not mentioned before 1147, which first appeared as a separate principality a hundred years later but was not really constituted as a hereditary apanage of one of the lines of the dynasty before the turn of the thirteenth century, rapidly rose to leading power under a succession of extremely efficient rulers who enlarged their territory and gradually supplanted their cousins from Tver as real masters of all dependencies of Vladimir.

    That whole story, which is comparatively well known, no longer has anything in common with the history of East Central Europe. The acceptance of Mongol domination, which was to last more than two hundred years, was probably unavoidable, but in any case it decided that the new colonial Russia Eastern Europe in the geographical sense would develop outside the European community. Connected with an empire whose major part and basic nucleus were in Asia, it was at the same time cut off from European influence and wide open to Asiatic.

    It is to the credit of the East Slavic, Great Russian settlers in that originally Finnish territory that they preserved not only their language and customs, that they not only continued to absorb various alien peoples, thanks to their cultural superiority, but also remained faithful to their religious tradition which in spite of the conflicting trends represented by pagan elements survived under extremely difficult conditions. This was to a large extent the result of an unbroken continuity of ecclesiastical organization, under the distant but respected authority of Byzantium, and particularly of the decision made around 1300 by the metropolitan of Kiev to transfer his residence to Vladimir, whence it was moved in 1326 to the promising center of Moscow.

    But neither that ecclesiastical link, nor the dynastic link with the Kievan past, was sufficient to make the Muscovite State a continuation of the Kievan State with merely a shift of the center. It was a new political creation where the local autocratic tradition was reinforced by the governmental conceptions of the Mongol Empire. That empire was much more despotic than the Christian Empire of Constantinople had ever been, and at the same time much more aggressive, with an unlimited program of expansion. As soon as Muscovite Russia, trained under such an influence, felt strong enough to liberate herself from the degrading yoke of that disintegrating empire, she took over its role in Eastern Europe, later to include its Asiatic part also by means of another process of colonization.

    But for that very reason Moscow under her “czars,” as the grand princes later called themselves like the Tartar khans, became a threat to all free peoples of East Central Europe, who soon found themselves placed between German and Russian imperialism. The first to be threatened were those Eastern Slavs who had remained in their original settlements, in the old Russia of the Kievan Rus—the Ruthenia of the Latin sources—including also the Great Russians of Novgorod, all of them soon to be claimed by the rulers of Moscow in the name of the unity of all the Russias. The question whether those peoples, particularly the ancestors of the White Russians and Ukrainians of today, would be able to save their individuality and keep in contact with their western neighbors was an issue of primary importance for the whole structure of Europe which the consequences of the Mongol invasion had already raised in the thirteenth century.

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