Armies of the Battle on the Ice 1242

Imposing: This form the helmet of this knight comes from illustrations of the the so-called Crusader Bible, probably originated in France around in 1245. The elaborate helmet ornament was probably not worn in combat.

Well-Equipped: Only a small part of the Teutonic infantry is so well-armed like this spearman. In addition to the heavy chain mail, he wears a helmet with a mask visor, which is increasingly replaced by the pot helmet at this time. This foot soldier has a falchion, a single-edged sword that (presumably) was used by the infantry.

Top: Hermann von Dorpat’s army consists to a large extent of warriors that were not subject to the Teutonic Order, like this rider from Dorpat (Derpt). He has a Pot helmet, and his horse is protected by a quilted blanket.

Bottom: The Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Gerhard von Malberg, resided in 1242 in the Holy Land. At this time the Brothers are arguing about whether the Order itself to focus on their own state or Outremer. Gerhard wears here another plate skirt of metal plates over his chain mail, which added to it his protection. The horse protective blanket was made of chain mesh which was a novelty in the middle of the 13th century.

Top right: The “Brothers of the Knighthood of Christ of Livonia” under the name “Sword Brothers”. The name refers to his white tunic with the red sword cross.

Middle left: In 1228 to protect the Bishopric of Culm from pagans, at the initiative of the Polish Duke Konrad of Masovia, the knight-monks became the Order of the “Brothers of the Knights Service of Christ in Prussia”, in short, “Brothers of Dobrin”. Konrad created the order especially because that Teutonic knights did not want to help him in the fight against the Prussians. But only a handful of knights from the Reich put on his white coat with the red sword and star. The brothers could never bring more than 35 knights and about 165 armed men into the field. In 1235, most Dobrins joined the Teutonic Order, the rest fell a little later battle.

Bottom right: This Crusader has strapped his boots with metal cleats to help moving over ice.

Top left: Scandinavian Legacy: The Heavy Druzhina cavalry evolved descendants of Viking immigrants who had settled in the Novgorod area. Therefore their equipment shows a strong Nordic influence.

Top right: The sword still expensive weapons in the Middle Ages, the infantry of both sides mostly armed with spears and axes, like this well-equipped warrior of the Novgorod militia. Instead of wearing expensive chain mail He has a so-called Gambeson, a textile armor of several layers of fabric (or sometimes leather).

Bottom: Few soldiers of the Novgorod militia are heavily armed like this warrior, his armor shows Asian, Western and Nordic influences.

Top: Alexander Nevskii’s army had only a small part which was cavalry. This Druzhina bodyguard clearly has oriental influences in his armour and weapons. The horses have a kind of “spikes” on their hoofs to easier negotiate ice.

Bottom right: Alexander Nevskii wears a magnificent ceremonial armor on this picture. Masked helmets are not unknown during the Middle Ages in Russia. They go back to both Nordic and, as in this case, to Asian influences. The scale armor is even more widespread than in Western Europe among the rich classes of the population.

Bottom left: Little is known about the equipment of the Novgorod militias. However, since sources always report that the onslaught of Teutonic Crusaders was stopped by a hail of arrows is assumed that bow and crossbowmen were in the Russian center.

Unable to compete with other Military Orders in Syria, the Teutonic Knights fought in Armenia instead. In 1210 nearly the whole order was killed, leaving just 20 knights. Hermann von Salza essentially refounded the order in 1226, aided by Emperor Friedrich II. They were given lands in Sicily and eastern Europe, a transaction approved by the pope in the Golden Bull of Rimini (1223). They now wore white tunics, an honor granted over the strong objection of the rival Knights Templar. They fought in behalf of the Hungarian king in Transylvania before moving into Prussia, which the Knights in the Service of God in Prussia had failed to conquer. The first two Knights of the order settled in Prussia in 1229; the next year 20 more arrived, along with 200 sergeants. The Brethren thereafter acted as commanders and officers in larger armies of converted Prussians who served them as auxiliaries. In battle the Knights were the Panzer tip of a crusading invasion of the pagan lands of the Baltic. They ravaged and conquered Courland and Prussia and parts of Poland and western Russia, waging ruthless campaigns against ‘‘the northern Saracens.’’ They settled in conquered lands as the new aristocracy, enserfing native populations. Their own vassalage shifted among the Empire, the king of Poland, and distant but powerless popes. The legacy of the ‘‘Drang nach Osten’’ (‘‘Drive to the East’’) of the ‘‘Sword Brethren’’ was the Christianization and enfeoffment of Prussia by force of arms and merciless war with Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, and Muscovy. The northern crusades, especially the long forest-ambush campaigns of the 14th century against animist Lithuanians, were among the most ferocious of the entire Middle Ages.

The military tools of the Brethren were advanced and powerful crossbows, mailed heavy cavalry, stone watchtowers and fortress fastnesses, huge torsion artillery (catapults and counterpoise trebuchets), and cogs that could carry 500 troops, which gave them mobile striking power along the Baltic coast. Their early opponents had almost none of these weapons. When Knights charged native infantry (‘‘Pruzzes’’) armed only with bows and axes, the panic and slaughter was terrible. The Brethren united with the Livonian Order, also comprised of German knights, from 1237 to 1525. To their new Ordensstaat (1238), the Sword Brothers brought German and Dutch colonists and peasants to secure the land, completing the most successful and brutal military colonization of the Middle Ages. Baltic cities within the Ordensstaat were permitted to join the Hanse, as did the Hochmeister.


On April 5, 1242. Alexander, intending to fight in a place of his own choosing, retreated in an attempt to draw the often over-confident Crusaders onto the frozen lake. Estimates on the number of troops in the opposing armies vary widely among scholars. A more conservative estimation has it that the crusader forces likely numbered around 2,600, including 800 Danish and German knights, 100 Teutonic knights, 300 Danes, 400 Germans and 1,000 Estonian infantry. The Russians fielded around 5,000 men: Alexander and his brother Andrei’s bodyguards (druzhina), totalling around 1,000, plus 2000 militia of Novgorod, 1400 Finno-Ugrian tribesman and 600 horse archers.

The Druzhina

The druzhina was the personal warrior retinue of a prince, similar in concept to the old Scandinavian hird; it has been calculated by modem Russian historians that by the late-12th century there were probably about 100 princes maintaining worthwhile retinues of this sort. As early as the 10th century some of the most powerful druzhina members also bad such retinues of their own, which they led in wartime under their prince’s banner, and by the close of the Kievan era, with so many minor ‘principalities’ in existence- some comprising no more than a village and a few acres of land- the retinues of many of the greater nobles (called boyars by the 11th century) were probably larger than those of some petty princes. Church dignitaries too often maintained their own substantial retinues. In exchange for their service members of the druzhinas were granted estates called pomestiia free of all obligations. This meant that if such a warrior should wish to leave the service of his prince or boyar he did not lose his land as a consequence, it becoming instead pan of the territory of whichever new prince or lord to whom he transferred his allegiance. These estates were therefore allodial rather than feudal.

The druzhina was divided into senior and junior retainers, the senior echelon comprising the boyars and state officers (usually one and the same).The juniors, comprising the grid, could be promoted to senior grade either when they had established their own retinues with which to serve the prince, or upon coming of age. However, by the second half of the 12th century the boyars, their power steadily growing, made personal appearances in the druzhina less and less often so that the princes instead came to rely more and more on those retainers who had in the past constituted the grid.

The Polk

The polk was a city militia supplied by a levy of every able-bodied freeman. It could only be called out by the Veche or city council, over which the prince had little or no authority, so that sometimes it failed to muster when needed or else disbanded before a campaign was complete. Politically as well as militarily each city constituted a risiach or 1,000-strong regiment under the command of an elected officer called a tysiatskyor ‘commander of 1,000’. This was divided into sotnias (‘hundreds’) under a sotsky for each ward of the city, which were in tum subdivided into ulitzi or ‘streets’ each under an ulitsky, probably the same as the desiatniky, ‘commander of 10’. However, since by the 12th century the largest of the cities could each raise militias of 3-5,000 men (including the contingents of surrounding districts and probably smaller dependent towns), the tisiach must be assumed to be an elite unit, but the balance of the levy was organised on the same decimal basis. In addition the smerdy, ie, land-holding upper-class peasants of the surrounding rural districts, were also called up to supplement the limited manpower of the cities, particularly in Novgorod, though they were poorly equipped, inexperienced and generally of low quality (‘simple villagers, unaccustomed to battle’ is how one prince described them in 1216); often, however, the rural districts supplied only horses and provisions, the towns and cities supplying the men. Militia service was performed principally on foot. However, most cities also financed very small detachments of cavalry under bagaturs (freelance professional soldiers of noble descent), usually comprising upper-class peasants and some impoverished boyars. They were employed mainly in the role of scouts.

The militias of the principality of Vladimir and its successors were the greatest in Russia during this period, with more towns and larger populations. The republican city of Novgorod, on the other hand, probably had the smallest pro-rata militia potential, and it was probably to help offset this that the Veche there appears to have maintained its own druzhina, the gridba.


Throughout this era considerable use was made of Turkic auxiliaries, often referred to by the Russians as svoi poganye, ‘our own pagans’, so as to differentiate them from the ‘Wild’ Turks of the steppes (though these too could be, and often were, employed during Russia’s endemic civil wars). These nomad mercenaries are also often referred to as Kazzaks or Kazaks, plausibly the same name as was applied to the later Cossacks; it loosely translates as nomad vagabond’ or ‘freebooter’. It has also been suggested that the term derives ultimately from ‘Khazar’.

Vladimir Monomakh, Prince of Kiev 1113-25, was to be first to hire large numbers of Turks since his grandfather St Vladimir’s day (973-1015), employing them extensively against the Cumans (who were called Polovtsy by the Russians) in the late-11th century when he was prince of Pereyaslavl. These seem to have been mainly Turks, Pechenegs and Berendei (Brodniki), many of whom were permanently settled in South Russia, particularly in Pereyaslavl and Cherginov. Following Vladimir’s victories over the Cumans in the first quarter of the 12th century most of the remaining Turk and Pecheneg tribes acknowledged the suzerainty of Kiev. (The Pechenegs are sometimes referred to in 12th and 13th century Russian sources as Kibitki, literally ‘heavy chariots’, a reference to their characteristic wagons). We also hear of Kaypichi, Kovuye and Turpeye tribesmen, who collectively became the Chernyeklobuki (in Turkish Karakalpaks, or ‘Black Caps’, first recorded in 1146), settled as frontier guards along the greater part of Kiev’s eastern frontier. The character of such Turkic allies inevitably underwent gradual change as they became more settled, inter-married and were supplemented by Russians, until eventually many became absorbed into the indigenous Russian population. Such, at least, appears to have been the fate of the ‘Irregulars’ introduced into Suzdal in the mid-12th century by Yuri Dolgoruki.

Some Cumans, though at first probably not many, were also allied to and settled in Russia, and it was the Cumans who supplied the bulk of Kiev’s Turkic mercenaries at the time of the first Mongol attack in 1223, though these were ‘Wild’ Turks rather than settled allies. The Cumans and Karakalpaks alike were smashed along with the Russians in the Mongol invasions (though interestingly as Late as 1325 there is record of a Cuman tribe called by the name Black Caps. The Pechenegs similarly make their final appearance in history in the 13th century as a minor Cuman horde.) The Cumans, in fact, were so heavily defeated in the invasion of 1223 that their control of the South Russian steppes was brought to an abrupt and bloody end; their demise as a major Central Asian power was underlined by a further- and final- defeat at the hands of the Mongols in 1239.

In addition to Turks we also read of Hungarian, Polish and German troops employed by or allied to various principalities. From the mid-12th century some cities also began to employ Lithuanian tribesmen under their own boyars, usually in bands of some 3-800 men at a time, though sometimes two or three boyars would join together and hire themselves out as a larger force of up to 2,000 men.

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