Prussian uprisings were two major and three smaller uprisings by
the Prussians, one of the Baltic tribes, against the Teutonic Knights
that took place in the 13th century during the Prussian Crusade. The
crusading military order, supported by the Popes and Christian Europe,
sought to conquer and convert the pagan Prussians. In the first ten
years of the crusade five of the seven major Prussian clans fell under
the control of the less numerous Teutonic Knights. However, the
Prussians rose against their conquerors on five occasions.
The first uprising was supported by Duke Swietopelk II, Duke of
Pomerania. The Prussians were successful at first, reducing the
Knights to only five of their strongest castles. Conversely, the duke
suffered a series of military defeats and was eventually forced to
make peace with the Teutonic Knights. With Duke Swietopelk's support
for the Prussians broken, a prelate of
Pope Innocent IV then
negotiated a peace treaty between the Prussians and the Knights.
However, this treaty was never honored or enforced, especially after
Battle of Krücken
Battle of Krücken at the end of 1249.
The second uprising, known in historiography as "The Great Prussian
Uprising", was prompted by the 1260 Battle of Durbe, the largest
defeat suffered by the
Teutonic Knights in the 13th century. This
uprising was the longest, largest, and most threatening to the
Teutonic Order, who again were reduced to five of their strongest
castles. Reinforcements for the Knights were slow to arrive, despite
repeated encouragements from
Pope Urban IV, and the position of the
Order looked set to worsen. Luckily for the Order, the Prussians
lacked unity and a common strategy and reinforcements finally reached
Prussia in around 1265. One by one, Prussian clans surrendered and the
uprising was ended in 1274.
The later three lesser uprisings depended on foreign help and were
suppressed within one or two years. The last uprising in 1295
effectively ended the
Prussian Crusade and Prussia became a Christian
German-speaking territory, which assimilated native Prussians and a
number of settlers from different German states.
2 The First Prussian Uprising (1242–1249)
3 The Great Prussian Uprising (1260–1274)
3.1 Preparation and tactics
3.2 Early Prussian success
3.3 Turning point
3.4 The end of the uprising
4 Further uprisings and aftermath
5 See also
Timeline of Teutonic conquest
Although the Prussians repelled early incursions by the Order of
Dobrzyń, they were outnumbered by attacks from Poland, Russians in
the southeast and the
Teutonic Knights from the west. The Teutonic
Order was called to the Culmerland (
Chełmno Land) in 1226 by Konrad I
of Masovia, who started a number of attacks and crusades against the
Prussians and later asked the Knights to protect him from retaliatory
raids by the Prussians. Preoccupied with crusades in the Holy Land,
Teutonic Knights arrived only in 1230. Their first task was to
build a base on the left bank of
Vistula at Vogelsang, opposite of
Toruń (Thorn), which was completed a year later. Led by Hermann
Balk, the Knights did not repeat the mistakes of the previous Order
and did not push eastwards into the forest of the interior. They
would further build fortified log (later brick and stone) castles
along major rivers and the
Vistula Lagoon to serve as basis for future
expansion. In 1231–1242, forty such castles were built. The
Prussians faced major difficulties in capturing these castles as they
were accustomed only to battling in open fields. Most conflicts
occurred either in summer or winter. Heavily armoured knights could
not travel and fight on land soaked by water from melting snow or
autumn rains. Summer campaigns were most dangerous as the Knights
would immediately build new castles in the conquered territory. The
Teutonic Knight's strategy proved successful: in ten years, five of
the seven major Prussian clans fell under control of the less-numerous
Teutonic Knights. However, the Prussians further resisted the
conquerors, leading to five uprisings over the following fifty years.
The First Prussian Uprising (1242–1249)
Ruins of the Teutonic castle in Rehden (today Radzyń Chełmiński).
It was one of five castles not captured by the Prussians.
The First Prussian Uprising was influenced by three major events.
Teutonic Knights lost the
Battle of the Ice
Battle of the Ice on Lake
Alexander Nevsky in April 1242. Secondly, southern Poland
was devastated by a Mongol invasion in 1241; Poland lost the Battle of
Legnica and the
Teutonic Knights lost one of its most trusted allies
that often supplied troops. Thirdly, Duke Swantopolk II of Pomerania
was fighting against the Knights, who supported his brothers' dynastic
claims against him. It has been implied that the new castles of the
Knights were competing with his lands over the trade routes along the
Vistula River. While some historians embrace the
Swantopolk–Prussian alliance without hesitation, others are more
careful. They point out that the historical information came from
documents written by the
Teutonic Knights and must have been
ideologically charged to persuade the
Pope to declare a crusade not
only against the pagan Prussians but also against the Christian
Swantopolk II of Pomerania
Swantopolk II of Pomerania in a park in Oliwa.
Prussians besieged Teutonic castles and managed to capture all except
for Elbing (Elbląg) and
Balga in the eastern regions of Natangia,
Barta and Warmia; Thorn (Toruń), Culm (Chełmno), and Rehden (Radzyń
Chełmiński) in the western parts. In December 1242, the Knights
were able to capture Sartowice, Swantopolk's castle on the banks of
the Vistula. The ensuing five-week siege of
Sartowice failed to
recapture the fortress and Swantopolk lost 900 men. In the spring
of 1243, Swantopolk also lost the castle at Nakel (Nakło nad
Notecią), which dominated trade on the
Noteć River. In the face of
these losses, the duke was forced to make short-lived truce. In
the summer of 1243, Prussians with Sudovian help raided the Culmerland
Chełmno Land) and, on their way back, defeated the pursuing Teutonic
Knights on June 15 on the banks of the Osa River. Some 400 Teutonic
soldiers perished, including their marshal. Swantopolk, encouraged
by the defeat, gathered an army of 2,000 men and unsuccessfully
besieged Culm (Chełmno).
Teutonic Knights managed to gather a coalition against Swantopolk:
Dukes of Masovia
Dukes of Masovia were given territories in Prussia, Dukes of Greater
Poland received Nakel, and Dukes of Pomerellia, brothers of
Swantopolk, hoped to regain their inheritance. Swantopolk built a
castle at Zantyr, where
Nogat separated from the Vistula, and launched
a blockade of Elbing and Balga. While the castle withstood Teutonic
attacks, the blockade was smashed by cogs. In late 1245
Swantopolks's army suffered a great defeat at S(ch)wetz Świecie, and
another one in early 1246, where 1,500 Pomeranians were killed.
Swantopolk II asked for truce and
Pope Innocent IV appointed his
chaplain, Jacob of Liège, the future
Pope Urban IV, to handle the
peace negotiations. However, the war was renewed in 1247 when large
Teutonic reinforcements arrived in Prussia. On Christmas Eve of
1247 the Knights besieged and overwhelmed a major Pomesanian fortress,
which they later renamed Christburg (Dzierzgoń), and newly arrived
Henry III, Margrave of Meissen
Henry III, Margrave of Meissen subdued the Pogesanians. Swantopolk
retaliated and destroyed Christburg, but the Knights rebuilt it in a
new location. Both Prussian and Swantopolk's armies failed to capture
the new castle. Otto III of Brandenburg raided
Warmia and Natangia
forcing the locals to surrender.
The peace talks that begun in 1247 achieved little, but a new truce
was arranged in September 1248 and peace was made on November 24,
1248. Swantopolk had to return lands seized from his brothers,
Teutonic Knights to pass through his domains, stop charging
tolls on ships using the Vistula, and stop any aid to the
Prussians. Prussians were compelled to sign the Treaty of
Christburg on February 7, 1249. The treaty provided personal freedom
and rights to newly converted Christians. It formally ended the
uprising, but already in November 1249 the
Natangians defeated the
Knights at the Battle of Krücken. The skirmishes lasted until 1253
and some sources cite this year as the end of the uprising. At
that point the treaty ceased its political power but remained an
interesting historical document.
The Great Prussian Uprising (1260–1274)
Map of the Prussian clans in the 13th century.
Schematic map of the 2nd uprising.
Preparation and tactics
The major revolt began on September 20, 1260. It was triggered by the
Lithuanian and Samogitian military victory against the joint forces of
Livonian Order and
Teutonic Knights in the Battle of Durbe. As the
uprising was spreading through Prussian lands, each clan chose a
Sambians were led by Glande, the
Natangians by Herkus
Bartians by Diwanus, the
Warmians by Glappe, the
Pogesanians by Auktume. One clan that did not join the uprising
was the Pomesanians. The uprising was also supported by
Skalmantas, leader of the Sudovians. However, there was no one leader
to coordinate efforts of these different forces. Herkus Monte, who was
educated in Germany, became the best known and most successful of the
leaders, but he commanded only his Natangians.
The Prussians besieged the many castles that the Knights had built and
could not send large armies to fight in the west. Prussians were not
familiar with Western European siege tactics and machinery and relied
on siege forts, built around the castle, to cut the supplies to the
Teutonic Knights could not raise large armies to
deliver supplies to the starving garrisons and smaller castles began
to fall. Those castles were usually destroyed and the Prussians
manned just a few castles, notably one in Heilsberg (Lidzbark
Warmiński), because they lacked technology to defend the captured
castles and organization to provide food and supplies to stationed
garrisons. On August 29, 1261 Jacob of Liège, who negotiated the
Treaty of Christburg after the first uprising, was elected as Pope
Urban IV. He, having an inside scope on events in Prussia, was
especially favourable to the
Teutonic Knights and issued 22 papal
bulls in three years of his papacy calling for reinforcements to the
Knights. However, the reinforcements were slow to come as dukes of
Poland and Germany were preoccupied with their own disputes and the
Livonian Order was fighting the Semigallian uprising.
Early Prussian success
Pope Urban IV (1261–1264) was especially supportive of the Teutonic
cause in Prussia. He served as a papal prelate negotiating the Treaty
of Christburg after the First Prussian Uprising.
The first reinforcement to the Teutonic forces arrived in early 1261,
but was wiped out on January 21, 1261 by
Herkus Monte in the Battle of
Pokarwis. In January 1262 reinforcements arrived from the
Rhineland, led by Wilhelm VII, Duke of Jülich, who was obliged by
Pope Alexander IV to fulfil his crusader duties in Prussia. This
army broke the
Siege of Königsberg
Siege of Königsberg but as soon as the army returned
Sambians resumed the siege and were reinforced by Herkus
Monte and his Natangians. Herkus was later injured and the Natangians
retreated, leaving the
Sambians unable to stop supplies reaching the
castle and the siege eventually failed. Prussians were more
successful capturing castles deeper into the Prussian territory (with
an exception of Wehlau, now Znamensk), and the Knights were left only
with strongholds in Balga, Elbing, Culm, Thorn, and Königsberg.
Most castles fell in 1262–1263, and Bartenstein fell in 1264. The
Prussians destroyed captured forts instead of using them for their own
defence, so the end of successful sieges meant that large Prussian
forces did not have to stay near their home and were then free to
operate in other parts of Prussia, raiding the Culmerland and
Herkus Monte raided Culmerland with a large force and took
many prisoners in 1263. On his way back to Natangia, Herkus and his
men were confronted by a contingent of their enemies. In the Battle of
Löbau that ensued, Prussians killed forty knights, including the
Master and the Marshal. The Prussians also received help from
Lithuanians and Sudovians. In summer of 1262
Treniota and Shvarn
attacked Masovia, killing Duke Siemowit I, and raided Culmerland,
Pogesanians to join the uprising. However, assassination
Mindaugas and subsequent dynastic fights prevented
further campaigns. Skalmantas, leader of Sudovians, raided Culm
(Chełmno) in 1263 and in 1265.
Ottokar II of Bohemia
Ottokar II of Bohemia participated twice in the Prussian Crusade:
in 1254, when he founded Königsberg, named in his honor, and in 1267,
when he helped to suppress the Great Prussian Uprising.
The year of 1265 was the turning point in the uprising: more
substantial reinforcements for the
Teutonic Knights finally started
arriving in Prussia and
Sambia gave up the fight. Teutonic castles
Königsberg and Wehlau on the
Pregel River cut off the region from
the rest of Prussia. Supplies to
Königsberg were brought by sea, and
the castle served as the basis for raids in surrounding Samland
Livonian Order sent troops to
Königsberg and the joint
forces defeated the
Sambians in a decisive battle forcing them to
surrender. In 1265 reinforcements arrived from Germany: armies of
Duke Albrecht of
Braunschweig and Margrave Albert of
in Prussia, but were unable to achieve much. In 1266 Otto III
and John I, co-rulers of Brandenburg, built a castle in the Natangian
Königsberg and named it Brandenburg (since
1945 Ushakovo). Due to bad weather they did not organize campaigns
into Prussian lands.
When the Dukes returned home, Brandenburg was captured by
his Warmians. The very next year Otto returned to rebuild the
castle. However, both John and Otto died before the end of 1267, and
Otto's son was killed in a tournament. Subsequent Dukes of Brandenburg
were not as supportive of the Knights. In 1266 Duke Swantopolk,
the supporter of the Prussians during the First Uprising, died and his
sons Mestwin and Warcisław briefly joined the Prussians in the
uprising. In 1267 King Ottokar II of Bohemia, who already
participated in the
Prussian Crusade in 1254 and who was promised by
Pope Urban IV all Prussian lands he could conquer, finally arrived
in Prussia. His only achievement was forcing Duke Mestwin to reconcile
with the Teutonic Knights. His large army was unable to campaign due
to an early thaw: heavily armed knights could hardly fight during the
wet and swampy spring season.
The warfare with the Prussians relied on guerilla raids in the border
regions. Small groups of men, a dozen to a hundred, made quick raids
on farms, villages, border posts, etc. This was a positional warfare
where neither side could defeat the other, but the Teutonic Knights
relied on future reinforcements from Germany and Europe, while
Prussians were draining their local resources. After the massacre
of surrendered Teutonic soldiers in the
Battle of Krücken
Battle of Krücken in 1249,
the Knights refused to negotiate with the Prussians. The Prussians
were also unable to coordinate their efforts and develop a common
strategy: while each clan had its own leader, there was no one to lead
all the clans. The
Natangians had to watch for attacks from Balga,
Brandenburg, Wehlau, and
Königsberg while the
threatened by garrisons at Christburg and Elbing. This way only
Diwane and his
Bartians were able to continue the war in the west.
They made several minor expeditions to Culmerland each year.
The end of the uprising
A non-contemporary illustration of Teutonic triumph in Prussia: a
native Prussian man is crushed by the victorious Teutonic Knights
(Christoph Hartknoch, 1684)
The major Prussian offensive was organized in 1271 together with
Linka, leader of the Pogesanians. The Bartian infantry and
Pogesanians besieged a border castle, but were fended off by the
Knights from Christburg. The Prussians who managed to escape joined
their cavalry while the Knights set up a camp on the opposite bank of
the Dargune River (
Dzierzgoń River), blocking the route home. When
Christians retired for the night, one half of the Prussian army
crossed the river in a distance, in order to attack the Knights from
the rear, while the other half charged straight across the river. The
Knights were encircled. The
Battle of Paganstin
Battle of Paganstin saw twelve knights
and 500 men killed. The Prussians immediately assaulted Christburg
and almost captured it. The Prussians were still looting the
surrounding area when cavalry from Elbing arrived. Many of the
Prussian infantry perished while cavalry escaped. Despite these
losses, Diwane was soon back and blocked roads leading to Christburg
hoping to starve the castle. Diwane was killed during a siege of a
small post at Schönsee (Wąbrzeźno) in 1273.
In the winter of 1271–1272 reinforcements arrived from Meissen, led
by Count Dietrich II. The army invaded
Natangia and besieged an
unnamed Natangian castle. While the assault claimed 150 lives of the
crusaders, most of Natangian resistance was broken and the region was
decimated. Herkus Monte, with a small group of his followers, was
forced to withdraw to the forests of southern Prussia. Within a year
he was finally captured and hanged. The last Prussian leader,
Glappe of Warmians, was also hanged when his siege campaign on
Brandenburg (now Ushakovo) was attacked from the rear. The last
tribe standing were the Pogesanians, who made a surprise raid into
Elbing and ambushed its garrison. In 1274 the Knights made a great
expedition to avenge this raid, capturing the rebel headquarters at
Heilsberg (Lidzbark Warmiński) and ending the uprising.
The Knights proceeded to rebuild and strengthen castles destroyed by
the Prussians. A number of Prussians escaped either to Sudovia or to
Lithuania, or were resettled by the Knights. Many free peasants were
made into serfs. Local nobles had to convert and give hostages, and
only a few of them were granted privileges to retain their noble
status. From 1274 to 1283 the
Teutonic Knights conquered
Skalvians, Nadruvians, and Sudovians/Yotvingians.
Further uprisings and aftermath
Grand Duke Vytenis, who the Prussians hoped would help defeat the
Teutonic Knights in 1295.
After the Great Uprising, the Prussians rose a number of times against
the Knights, but these uprisings were much smaller in scale and posed
no real danger to the Teutonic Knights, who could concentrate on
further conquests. The number of uprisings is variously considered to
be two or three. They were suppressed within a year or two and
showed exhaustion and division of the Prussian tribes. The third
uprising in 1276 was provoked by Skalmantas, leader of the Sudovians,
who successfully raided Teutonic lands. The next year he, with
help from the Lithuanians, led 4,000 men into the Culmerland (Chełmno
Land). The uprising failed to spread after Theodoric, vogt of
Sambia, convinced the
Sambians not to join the insurrection;
Warmians had also accepted baptism and promised their
loyalty to the Knights. The
Pogesanians alone continued the fight
and were crushed. Survivors with their Bartian chief escaped to Hrodna
in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania where they joined some of the
Bartians, Skalvians, and all of the Nadruvians, who fled there after
the Great Uprising.
The last two Prussian attempts to rid itself of the Teutonic rule were
made relying on the foreign powers who were enemies of the Knights.
The first one in 1286, also known as the fourth uprising, depended
upon help from the Duke of Rügen, the grandson of Swantopolk. The
plot was soon revealed and the
Pogesanians suffered the
consequences. In 1295 the last uprising was limited to Natangia
Sambia and depended upon help from Vytenis, Grand Duke of
Lithuania. The rebels captured Bartenstein (Bartoszyce) by surprise
and plundered as far as Königsberg, but were never a serious
threat. By that time Prussian nobility was already baptized and
pro-Teutonic to the extent that peasants killed them first before
attacking the Knights.
This last attempt effectively ended the
Prussian Crusade and the
Knights concentrated on conquering
Samogitia and Lithuania. Lithuanian
historians note that fierce resistance by the Prussians won time for
the young Lithuanian state to mature and strengthen so it could
withstand the hundred-year crusade, culminating in the 1410 Battle of
Grunwald, with minimal territorial losses. The Prussian lands were
repopulated by colonists from Germany, who after the 16th century
eventually outnumbered the natives. It is estimated that around 1400
Prussians numbered 100,000 and comprised about half of the total
population in Prussia. The Prussians were subject to Germanization
and assimilation and eventually became extinct sometime after the 16th
century. It is believed that the Prussian language became extinct
sometime at the beginning of the 18th century.
^ a b c d e Jonynas, Ignas (1937). "Christburgo taika". In Vaclovas
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^ Baranauskas, Tomas (2006-09-22). "Ar priminsime Europai apie
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^ a b c d e f Christiansen, Eric (1997). The
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^ Kulikauskas, Gediminas (2002). "Ordinų žemės ir pilys XIII–XIV
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^ a b Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 183–191.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 198–199.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 199–201.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 201–203.
^ a b c d e f g Jonas Zinkus; et al., eds. (1987). "Prūsų ir
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Lithuanian). 3. Vilnius, Lithuania: Vyriausioji enciklopedijų
redakcija. pp. 459–460.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 203–204.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 206.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 207, 209–210.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 211–213.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 228.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 228–229.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 230–231.
^ Delbreuck, Hans (1990). History of the Art of War. University of
Nebraska Press. p. 379. ISBN 978-0-8032-6585-1. Retrieved
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 273.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 279–280.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 324–325.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 296.
^ Wise, Terence (1984). The Knights of Christ. Osprey Publishing.
p. 22. ISBN 978-0-85045-604-2. Retrieved 2007-07-05.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 281–283.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 284.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 285–287.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 289.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 299–300.
^ a b Simas Sužiedėlis, ed. (1970–1978). "Skomantas". Encyclopedia
Lituanica. V. Boston, Massachusetts: Juozas Kapočius. p. 210.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 306–307.
^ a b c Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 308.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 309–310.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 298.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 311–313.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 324.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 315.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 326.
^ a b c Ivinskis, Zenonas (1937). "Divanas". In Vaclovas Biržiška.
Lietuviškoji enciklopedija (in Lithuanian). 6. Kaunas: Spaudos
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^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 326–327.
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^ a b Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 330.
^ Simas Sužiedėlis, ed. (1970–1978). "Mantas, Herkus".
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^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 331–332.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, pp. 332–333.
^ Christiansen counts at least two and hints at the third, Urban
counts three, but argues that the fourth "was not an insurrection at
all" (p. 369), Tarybų Lietuvos enciklopedija counts two (in 1276 and
Encyclopedia Lituanica also counts two, but in 1286 and 1295.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 342.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 344.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 369.
^ Urban, William. The Prussian Crusade, p. 382.
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the Baltic People. CEU Press. p. 147.
^ Kulikauskas, Gediminas (2002). "Ordinai ir baltų genčių likimai".
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from the original on 2008-03-03. Retrieved 2007-07-09.
^ Sabaliauskas, Algirdas (2002). Mes baltai (in Lithuanian) (2nd ed.).
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