A History of Pagan Europe
Prudence Jones & Nigel Pennick
Routledge Press – 1995
Prussia and the Baltic Shore
identities of the Baltic states and their boundaries,
unclear from pre-history, also shifted radically
following the Frankish incursions of the tenth century,
but their attitude to religion did not. These countries
retained official Paganism well into the medieval
period. The tribes of Old Prussia were devoutly Pagan.
It was only through wars of extermination at the behest
of Christian prelates that official Paganism was ended.
The genocide of the Old Prussians was not accomplished
easily. They took part with the Wends in the Baltic
rebellion of 983, considering Christianity to be the
worship of the Teutonicus deus. In 997, Adalbert,
bishop of Prague, was killed in his attempt to
Christianize Old Prussia. He was followed by Bruno of
Magdeburg, who was killed by the Yatvegians (southern
Lithuanians/East Prussians, around the river Niemen) in
1009, when Christianity was extirpated from the country.
of these failures, Bishop Bertold asserted that only the
conquest of Old Prussia and the Baltic lands would end Paganism. He died in battle in 1198, but his call was
taken up by the founding of Christian military orders.
In 1200, the Livs were subdued by Bishop Albert of
Bremen which led to the foundation of Riga, and in
1202, the establishment of the Fratres Militiae Christi,
the ‘Order of the Sword.’ These knights attempted to
impose Christianity by force, but they were resisted
In 1225, the Teutonic Order (The Order of St.
Mary’s Hospital of the Germans at Jerusalem, founded
at Acre in 1190) were expelled from their feudal lands
in Transylvania by the Pagan Kumans, and went to Prussia
to take Baltic lands for their order. Then began a
sixty-year war, which was by no means a one-sided
affair. The Knights of the Sword were defeated in battle
by a Pagan army of Lithuanians at Saule near Bauska in
In 1260, the ‘Great Apostasy’ in Old Prussia
led the Teutonic Knights to institute the same test of
loyalty as the Romans had when faced with the Christian
menace twelve hundred years before. All inhabitants of
the country were made to swear allegiance to the
national deity, in this case the Christian god. Those
who did so were rewarded with civil privileges.
1270 and 1273, an official campaign of extermination was
waged by the Christian military orders – the Teutonic
Knights, the Knights of the Cross and the Knights of the
Sword – against the Pagan Sambian nation of Old
Prussia. A few years later (1280-1283), the crusade
reached Sudovia, east of Old Prussia. The country was
reduced to desolation, its inhabitants massacred or
Until 1525, Prussia was an Ordenstaat,
a country owned by a Christian military order, and it
gave its name and its militaristic reputation to its
successor state, Brandenburg.