Medieval Warfare - II.2
Introduction: Ronald Delval, The Teutonic Order - The road to the Thirteen Years War'. Illustrated by Milek Jakubiec and Carlos Garcia.
Last of the three great military orders to be created, the Teutonic Knights are, like the Hospitaller Knights, far too often unjustly overshadowed by the more sensationalized Knights Templar. But where the Knights Templar were abolished and the Hospitaller Knights declined, the Teutonic Order would arguably thrive for a long time, leaving a lasting impact on Eastern Europe and the German world. This article will give an overview of their humble origins and the long process that would lead to an almost inevitable downward spiral. The Thirteen Years War was the conflict that made their decline final and was in many regards even more decisive than the famous Tannenberg disaster.
In a way, the Thirteen Years War can seem disappointing, especially when viewed from the safe perspective of a would-be-general’s comfortable armchair. A slightly uncomfortable opening, since political correctness demands that all warfare should be regarded as a failure of diplomacy, which ought, therefore, to be disappointing by very definition. Nonetheless, the subject remains one that fascinates, the very raison d’être of this magazine. As Stephen Turnbull, author of Tannenberg 1410, stated, albeit in a different context: “All battles are fought twice, once on the battlefield, then again interminably in the hearts of men.”
Theme: Raffaele D'Amato, 'The last great field victory of the Teutonic Knights - The Battle of Kolnitz, 1454'.
The Battle of Kolnitz (18 September 1454) was the greatest field victory of the German Order against the Polish and Prussian coalition in the Thirteen Years War. Although in the summer of 1454 only the capital, Marienburg, and isolated centres like Ryn, Pisz, Esk and Kolnitz (Chojnice) were in the hands of the Teutonic Order (within territories already administratively attached to the Polish Kingdom), the Polish victory over the Teutonic Knights was not yet complete. The military situation of the Order was not compromised, because it still had allies – especially inside the German Empire – and financial resources. For two centuries, the Order was the outpost of the German expansion towards the East. Its main bulk were German knights, the core of the forces taking part in the Baltic crusader expeditions. Following the Great War of 1409-1411, this movement had almost disappeared, going hand in hand with the economic and military decadence of the Order, yet successful propaganda still allowed the quick collection of large expeditionary armies. When the Prussian uprising began in 1454, the Order had already started such a mobilization.
Among the most important actions of the Thirteen Years War was a series of operations against the castles of the Teutonic Knights, the architectural survivors of an astounding medieval enterprise. During the thirteenth century, while better-known armies of crusaders fought Muslims in the Holy Land, the Teutonic Order took on the inhabitants of Prussia – medieval Europe’s last pagan frontier. They converted the Prussian tribes to Christianity as much with force as with faith, and carved out a red-brick kingdom for themselves while so doing. The sites today range from barely discernible ruins to magnificent restorations, but all have two features in common: their close links with the religious life and the use of red brick as the predominant building material.
Theme: Sidney Dean, 'The Battle of Zarnowitz, 17 September 1462 - The turning point'. Illustrated by José Daniel Cabrera Peña and Carlos Garcia.
Polish commander Piotr Dunin heard the enemy before he saw them. The sound of wagon wheels, horses’ hooves, and the clanking of armour was unmistakable; the Teutonic Order’s army was approaching. Dunin surveyed his position. His fortified camp was protected on the flanks and rear by marshland and the waters of Lake Witalicz. The enemy could only attack head on. On the other hand, Dunin’s choice of position cut off all hope of escape should the battle go badly. Had he made the right choice? He would soon find out. It was Friday, 17 September 1462. Dunin could not know it at the time, but this day would mark the turning point of the Thirteen Years War. It would also be the last day on earth for one of the combatant commanders.
The Source: Andrei Pogacias, 'Master of eastern European history - The chronicler Jan Dlugosz'.
Jan Dlugosz is perhaps the greatest and most famous Polish historian of the Middle Ages. His works describe the historical events in Eastern Europe and elsewhere over a long period. Unfortunately, there is no full translation of his main work into English or any other language, except Polish. Three million words are a challenge, as much for the translator as for the reader. Although the amount of work would be overwhelming, and the size of the final product would be huge, such an enterprise would be more than useful not only for historians, but also for those passionate about medieval literature. The only attempt to make his Annales available to a larger audience was made by Maurice Michael, whose very abridged version is a sort of short re-telling of all the events covered. Hopefully, in our lifetime, somebody will take on this great challenge and we will have the chance to read the historical work of Dlugosz in a very faithful translation.
Special: Vincent van der Veen, 'The Church's ban of the crossbow - Crossbows and Christians'.
From the eleventh century onwards, the crossbow was a common sight on the battlefields of Europe. Its ease of use and effectiveness made it a popular choice among generals, but not everyone took kindly to it. On two separate occasions this ‘diabolical’ weapon was banned by the Church. However, was the crossbow truly ‘hateful to God’, or might there have been another reason for banning its use?
The Battle: Bouko de Groot, 'The charge of six thousand to decide the fate of Limburg - The Battle of Worringen'. Illustrated by Carlos Garcia and Darren Tan.
After years of bloody war, six thousand armoured horsemen converged on the fields of Worringen for the final show-down. This time there would be no mercy, no peace: the issue would be settled once and for all, definitively. Main prize still was the Duchy of Limburg, but over the years freedom for burghers, independence for villagers and a long lasting clan feud had all become part of the conflict. This fierce, day-long battle would decide them all.
The Duel: Barttomiej Walczak, 'Fighting skills of European mounted warriors - Fighting on horseback in late medieval Europe'.
The iconic image of the Middle Ages is the charge of heavily-armoured knights and the glorious clash of lances and shields. People more familiar with the history of warfare will also conjure up the picture of such charges being successfully broken by pikemen, longbowmen, and other disciplined formations. Nevertheless, without any doubt, the glorious days of chivalry and knighthood coincide with the successful use of heavily-armoured mounted warriors.
May. 04, 2013 (posted in Ancient Warfare editor's blog)
Our good friend Jona Lendering has posted breaking news (in Dutch) over on his blog, which I translate c.q. paraphrase below. Siggi Karcher, over at the Roman Army Talk forum, was the first to break this news, but Jona has written a coherent treatment on the subject.
As everyone knows, Julius...
Apr. 26, 2013 (posted in Ancient Warfare editor's blog)
This is a review of the book Ancient Warfare: Archaeological Perspectives, edited by John Carman and Anthony Harding and published in 1999 (the reviewed edition appeared in 2009). As an edited volume, it contains chapters written by a wide variety of different authors. (Obviously, I should note...
Apr. 18, 2013 (posted in Ancient Warfare editor's blog)
Allan Vorda conducted an interview with James Romm, Associate Professor of Classics at Bard College, who edited The Landmark Arrian, probably the definitive ancient text on Alexander the Great. What follows is an interesting talk on Arrian and various aspects of the life and career of the famed...
Apr. 17, 2013 (posted in Ancient Warfare editor's blog)
We have just published the first issue of the seventh volume, on ancient Egypt, and are currently preparing the second issue, which will deal with the many wars fought on and over the island of Sicily. This means it's about time that we start thinking about possible themes to use for the next...
Apr. 13, 2013 (posted in Ancient Warfare editor's blog)
This is the third and final part of a series of blog posts on the depiction of ancient warfare in videogames. In the first part, I gave a very brief overview of Civilization and Total War games, with the odd comment on similar games. In the second part, I turned my attention to real-time...
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