By John H. Lind
The Reception of Medieval Europe in the Baltic Sea Region: Papers of the XIIth Visby Symposium held at Gotland University, Visby (Gotland University Press, 2009)
Introduction: In an earlier contribution to the Culture Clash or Compromise (CCC) project, entitled ‘Collaboration and Confrontation between East and West on the Baltic Rim as result of the Baltic Crusade’ I related how, according to the Novgorod Chronicles, newly arrived crusaders, together with the Sword Brothers, allied themselves with the Russian-Orthodox Pskovites before they went on to their crushing defeat at the hands of the Lithuanians at Saule in September 1236. I then made the claim that this was the last time where Russians and crusaders collaborated on a larger scale. With the entry of the Teutonic Order on the scene after the battle at Saule the previous potential allies, Novgorod and Pskov, became themselves potential victims of the crusading movement.
The reasons for my claim were twofold. First it has been the almost universally accepted opinion that Aleksandr Nevskii, the Russian prince who was to be the dominating figure in Russia’s affairs, both internal and external, from the 1240s until his death in 1263, was a staunch defender of the Orthodox Church against the papally sponsored crusading movement of the Catholic Church right from the time of his first appearance on the political scene as prince of Novgorod at the tender age of twenty. Secondly, Pope Gregory IX, who was pope from 1227 and died in August 1241, deliberately advocated a policy of confrontation by the newly established Catholic powers in the Baltic region with the Orthodox Russians in the neighbouring Russian principalities. As early as 1232 the Pope had written to the bishop of Semigallia forbidding the Catholic powers in the region to conclude peace or armistice with the pagans and Russians. Then, in November 1234, Pope Gregory laid the ideological foundation for this policy when he summoned the Sword Brothers, the archbishop of Riga and other leading ecclesiastics in Livonia to Rome to answer a number of charges. Among these was precisely the allegation that they had allied themselves with the ‘heretic Russians’ (Rutenos hereticos)? By pinning such a label on the Russians, the Pope singled them out as potential targets of future crusades.
It was a policy in which the Pope sought to involve ail the Scandinavian countries. First of ail he wanted once more to engage the Danish king who, after he had had to ransom himself from his kidnappers in 1223-25, had lost most of his Baltic possessions and, with them, his influence. Having repeatedly attempted to persuade first the Sword Brothers, then the Teutonic Order, to hand over the former Danish possessions in Estonia to the king of Denmark, Pope Gregory finally, through the good offices of his legate, William of Modena, managed to get the Order to relinquish the three northernmost Estonian provinces to the king in the Treaty of Stensby on 7 June 1238. A year before, in a papal bull of December 1237, Pope Gregory had urged the Swedes to continue their expansion towards the East with a crusade in Finland against the Tavastians, probably as a preliminary to their further crusade against the Russians in 1240. In 1241 the Pope even attempted to involve distant Norway in the fight against the Orthodox Russians. At least he permitted King Hâkon to commute the vow he had made to go on a crusade to the Holy Land, provided he instead directed a crusade against his pagan neighbours. For this to make sense, these pagan neighbours can only have been Russian-allied Karelians in the North.