Livonian War

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Livonian War
Theater of war and campaigns in Livonia from 1558 to 1560
Theater of war and campaigns in Livonia from 1558 to 1560
date 1558-1583
place Estonia, Duchy of Livonia , Ingermanland and Tsarist Russia
output Victory for Denmark-Norway, Poland-Lithuania and Sweden
Parties to the conflict

LivonianShield.svg Championships Livonia

Tsarism Russia Livonia
Flag of et-Parnu.svg


Gotthard Kettler
Friedrich II. (Denmark and Norway)
Erik XIV.
Stephan Báthory

Ivan IV
Magnus of Denmark and Norway

The Livonian War from 1558 to 1583, also known as the First Northern War , was the first of a series of armed conflicts between Sweden , Poland-Lithuania , Denmark and Tsarist Russia for supremacy in the Baltic Sea region .


Livonian Confederation

From 1237 to 1561, Old Livonia (from 1346 the so-called Marienland Livonia) was part of the Teutonic Order . Again and again there were disputes with the neighboring Russian republics of Pskov and Novgorod , which had both religious ( Nordic Crusades ) and economic reasons. Important trade routes between Western Europe and Russia ran through Livonia, which the Livonian Confederation exploited politically and economically. There had been conflicts over the rule of the Baltic Sea between Novgorod, the Teutonic Order and Sweden. With the incorporation of Novgorod in 1476 , the Grand Duchy of Moscow also inherited the conflicts with its neighbors. Already in the Russo-Livonian War 1480-1481 , Ivan III supported. the Pskov republic against Livonia and devastated areas from Dorpat to Riga . In 1492 he founded the fortress Ivangorod opposite the fortress of the order Narwa , which was also directed against Sweden, from the Ivan III. Parts of Karelia demanded. However, the Swedes dragged Ivangorod after Russian attacks in 1496 before an armistice was signed the following year. Another war broke out between Livonia and Russia from 1501 to 1503. In 1502, national champion Wolter von Plettenberg was able to attack Russia under Ivan III. push back one last time.

In 1523 the Reformation began in Livonia , which initially spread mainly in the cities. In old Livonia, which was already fragmented, the Reformation created further tensions. By the middle of the 16th century, the previous balance of power in the Baltic Sea area had shifted. Russia had grown stronger and was looking for the way to Europe. Poland-Lithuania, Denmark and Sweden also claimed part of the old Livonian heritage for themselves.

With the conquest of the khanates of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556), the young Tsar Ivan IV seemed to have finally succeeded in liberating Russia from the Tatar yoke , and many hoped that after these victories he would now face the khanate of Crimea would turn. But Ivan looked for a weaker opponent instead: A victory against the knightly state in Livonia promised free access to the Baltic Sea.

Course of war

The disintegration of old Livonia

Siege of Narva 1558
Blackheads epitaph in Tallinn in memory of 10 members of the Brotherhood who fell in a skirmish in September 1560

The Livonian War began in 1558 with the invasion of Livonia by Russian troops . Ivan used the reason for the attack because the order refused to pay tribute imposed by his grandfather on the Dorpat monastery. The knights , who had been under Polish sovereignty since the Second Peace of Thornton of 1466, could no longer meet the demanded additional payment . Narva fell on May 11, 1558; Neuhausen on June 29; Dorpat on July 18, 1558. The north of the Confederation was quickly occupied. With the conquest of Narva, Russia temporarily (until 1581) gained direct access to the Baltic Sea. After the Russian troops had advanced as far as Reval in the autumn , but had then withdrawn to Narva and Dorpat, they broke into Livonia a third time in January 1559, now into the archaeological areas with an attack on Riga. The Danish embassy in Moscow, with reference to Danish sovereignty over Estonia, was supposed to strive for a peace that was as favorable as possible for Livonia, but was only able to reach an armistice there for six months (May to October 1559) agreed on April 11; a Tartar invasion made it seem advisable to the tsar to temporarily postpone his ambitions in Livonia. As early as November, right after the armistice had expired, new actions by Russian troops took place, and in February 1560 they succeeded in conquering Marienburg , a border castle of the order. On August 2, 1560, the battle of Ermes took place, where the combined army of the order, supported by Poland, was defeated by the Russians. Fellin, the strongest castle of the Order , fell on August 20th . At the beginning of September Russian troops advancing against Reval and Pernau penetrated the Wiek and plundered . That was the end of the Livonian religious branch. The Russian troops withdrew to Wierland and Dorpat at the end of 1560 and stayed there in 1561, so that the weapons were silent that year.

In 1561, the order of Altlivland dissolved, and predominantly German aristocratic vassals founded the Livonian knighthood in this area . This and the Russian successes served as the reason for the internationalization of the conflict, when the surrounding powers appropriated parts of the dissolved Livonia. Part of the Livonian estates placed himself in 1561 the King of Poland as closed, Gotthard Kettler , the last country Master of the Teutonic Order in Livonia, in 1561 with Sigismund II. Augustus an agreement by which from the religious country , the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia under Polish suzerainty was . The estates of the island of Ösel and the Pilten monastery had already submitted to the Danish crown in 1559 and the Danish Prince Magnus went ashore on April 16, 1560 with 300 soldiers on Ösel near Arensburg . The mainland part of the former Pilten monastery area was lost to Sweden in 1563, but could be regained. In 1561 the city of Reval and the Harrisch-Wierische knighthood voluntarily submitted to Sweden. In contrast, Sweden conquered the smaller towns in northern Altivland by force of arms. Only the city of Riga maintained its independent (imperial direct) position until January 1581. When it became clear that the city would not be able to assert itself against the surrounding powers (Poland-Lithuania, Sweden, Russia), Riga submitted to the Polish King Stephan Báthory in 1581 and paid homage to him. In return, King Stephen confirmed the city's traditional freedoms and privileges through the Corpus Privilegiorum Stephanorum (sometimes also referred to as Corpus Privilegiorum Stephanorum ).

War between Russia and Lithuania

Map of Poland-Lithuania after the Union of Lublin in 1569:
  • Poland-Lithuania
  • Vassalate Duchy of Prussia and Courland
  • Since the events in Livonia no longer allowed an extension of the armistice between Lithuania and Russia, which expired in 1562, Ivan IV opened a new multi-year armed conflict on the long-disputed Belarusian border, and the Poles encouraged the Crimean Tatars to make new incursions into Russia. As the war increased in space and participants, it increasingly broke up into smaller actions. Raids and attacks increasingly dominated the scene.

    In early 1562, during the war against Lithuania, Russian armies penetrated as far as Schklou , Orscha , Dubrouna and Vitebsk and Ivan IV took the strategically important Lithuanian fortress Polatsk with 60,000 men . Ivan IV's military leaders brought almost the entire Polotsk region north of the Daugava under their control.

    Terrified by this loss, the Lithuanians signed an armistice with the tsar, who, however, demanded rule over Polatsk and Livonia in order to guarantee a lasting peace. When his demand was rejected, the Tsar attacked the Grand Duchy of Lithuania again in January 1564. But Prince Pyotr Schujski's 25,000-strong army was defeated on the Ula River near Polazk on January 26, 1564 in the Battle of the Ulla and on February 7 in the Battle of Orscha by a Lithuanian army brought in by Hetman Mikołaj Radziwiłł Rudy . As a result, there were only minor skirmishes between the two parties, which were occasionally interrupted by peace negotiations.

    When the Lithuanian legation tried in 1566 to get Polatsk and Smolensk back through diplomatic channels, Ivan demanded Riga for it. As a result, the ruling circles of the Grand Duchy decided to advance into Russian territory to create a better negotiating position. But the attack in 1567/68 at Maladsetschna , for which with more than 40,000 men the strongest army in the history of Lithuania was raised, failed. The acts of war continued on a low flame. The Russian military leaders avoided open fighting and holed up in their fortresses, which dragged on the war.

    The growing Russian threat was one of the reasons why Poland and Lithuania, which had previously been ruled by a common king “in personal union”, united in the Union of Lublin in 1569 . With this "Realunion" a common state was created. A three-year armistice from June 1570 finally confirmed the mutual acquis between Russia and Poland-Lithuania.

    As early as 1563, there was also an open war between Denmark and Sweden, which went down in history as the Three Crown War or the Nordic Seven Years War. However, this was only carried out temporarily in Livonia, since both powers were primarily engaged on the Nordic front and at sea, so that they were unable to use strong forces against each other on the Baltic front.

    Russian vassalage of the Kingdom of Livonia and war with Sweden

    Livonia War Map between 1570 and 1577.
  • held by Russia in 1570
  • held by Russia between 1572 and 1577
  • occupied by Lithuania
  • From Arensburg, Magnus von Holstein maintained connections in 1569 to confidants of the tsar, who had decided to take another action against Livonia with the aim of establishing a Livonian state there that was dependent on Russia. While the former masters of the order Fürstenberg and Kettler, initially addressed by the tsar, had refused to be placed at the head of such a state, Magnus was willing to take on the role of a vassal of the tsar. After an embassy dispatched by Magnus to Moscow in the autumn of 1569 had conducted the negotiations to clarify the Tsar's plans in greater detail, Magnus himself arrived in Moscow in June 1570, where the Tsar immediately awarded him the title of King in Livonia . His territory assigned to him by the tsar was limited to the Oberpahlen occupied by the Russians , whereby it was provided that the territories conquered by himself should continue to fall to the kingdom of Magnus as well as a share of the future Russian to be assigned to him by the tsar at his discretion Conquests.

    Through the takeover of Johann III. A fundamental change in foreign policy took place there as the new King of Sweden. The overthrown King Erik XIV bought the neutrality of Tsar Ivan IV with numerous concessions in the Baltic States. Johann now entered into an alliance with Poland-Lithuania. Consequently, Russia had to become a new direct opponent. A war was wanted by both rulers, which strained the relationship between Swedes and Russians for generations.

    A long war between Sweden and the Russian Zartum began over Karelian, Novgorodian and Livonian territories. The promised Polish help did not materialize after Sigismund August's death in 1572. Tsar Ivan IV could almost every castle and every castle of Johann III. conquer in Livonia. Russian troops and troops provided by Magnus began to besiege Reval in August. During the siege in December, the Nordic Seven Years War between Sweden and Denmark was ended by the Peace of Szczecin and Ösel was removed from Magnus' sphere of influence by the Danish king. The hopes placed by the Tsar in the use of Magnus in the siege of Reval were not fulfilled. In March 1571 the siege was called off. The Russian troops succeeded in conquering the Weissenstein fortress in Livonia in 1573 . The city of Riga , which is important for the control of the Baltic Sea , could no longer be captured.

    Following an instruction from the tsar, Magnus now went to his kingdom , where he initially resided in Oberpahlen and later in Karkus. Although Magnus became more closely associated with the Tsarist family - he married Princess Maria Vladimirovna, a 13-year-old niece of the Tsar in Novgorod , in April 1573 - and the Russians expanded their rule in Livonia to new territories from 1573 onwards, there were none for him for years right use. In preparation for a large-scale incursion by Russian troops into the part of Livonia occupied by Poland, the Tsar summoned him to Pleskau at the end of June 1577. Magnus was instructed not to penetrate into the parts of Polish Livonia which the Russians intended to seize in the course of their campaign. Magnus obeyed, but at the beginning of 1578 he secretly left for Pilten, probably by sea. In 1576/77 Ivan IV advanced again into the Eastern Baltic and conquered Estonia, which was occupied by Sweden, and Livonia, which was occupied by Poland. Magnus, however, let it happen that, for fear of the Russians, he submitted to fixed places that the Tsar claimed for himself, such as Ascheraden , Lennewarden , Erlaa and finally even the fortified Kokenhusen . A bloody punitive Russian troops to Kokenhusen was a consequence, another the arrest of Magnus by the Tsar on August 31 in front of the besieged by the Russians turning . When some of the Wenden crew blew themselves up in desperation days later, Magnus was a prisoner in the tsar's camp . Weeks later the tsar released him in Dorpat with instructions to return to Karkus.

    Polish and Swedish counterattacks from 1578

    Siege of Polatsk by Polish forces in 1579
    The siege of Pskov (1581/82) in an illustration from the 19th century

    With Stephan Báthory , a Hungarian aristocrat from the Principality of Transylvania was able to successfully assert himself as the new king in Poland in 1576 . Báthory was a skilled tactician in the power structure of the republic and now led his army against the Moscow state in the Livonian War. After the army reform of 1578 and targeted military preparations, Poland had an army of 41,000 men in the summer of 1579. Now Báthory opened the counterattack directly against north-west Russian territory. He conquered Polatsk in August 1579. With the aim of cutting off Russia's access to Livonia, Stephan Báthory moved towards Velikiye Luki and liberated northern Belarus in 1580. At the same time, threatening developments were looming for Russia on the Swedish-Russian border. In 1579 the Swedish commander in chief Henrik Klasson Horn had to withdraw the troops brought up against Narva on September 14th after a two-week siege, the new attack on the Karelian front brought the conquest of Kexholm on November 5th, 1580. On September 6th of the following year Narva fell in Swedish hand. Ivan IV now asked the Pope to mediate, who intervened in the conflict in the hope of a church union and a common defense against the Turks.

    Stephan Báthory led the Polish troops as far as Pleskau on the third campaign and closed the siege ring around the city in early September 1581 . Although it was possible to break a breach in the city wall by artillery fire on September 8, the storming of the city failed due to the bitter resistance of the residents, carefully organized by Prince Ivan Petrovich Schuiski . The failure at Pleskau increased the willingness of the Polish king to come to an agreement with Russia. It was reached after tough negotiations and thanks to papal mediation by the Jesuit Antonio Possevino near Pleskau on January 15, 1582.

    Peace and the consequences of war

    In the armistice of Jam Zapolski with Poland-Lithuania of 1582, Ivan IV renounced Livonia and Polatsk for ten years, but got back the Russian territories conquered by King Stephan Báthory between 1579 and 1581 after he had abandoned the unsuccessful siege of Pskov that had lasted for several months .

    On November 7, 1582 the Swedes broke off the siege after several weeks of unsuccessful attempts to assault the Schluesselburg fortress . In the peace treaty of Pljussa Iwan renounced among other things Jam , Koporje and Ivangorod and recognized the possession of Estonia and Ingermanland to the Swedish crown. This isolated Russia from the Baltic Sea. Archangelsk , founded on the White Sea in 1584 , was its only port for over a century through which it could still trade with the West.

    In 1584 Ivan IV died completely emaciated. He left behind a shattered country on the inside and an unstable country on the outside and with Fyodor I a mentally retarded son on the throne, for whom, however, the boyar Boris Godunov took over the business of government. After Fjodor's death in 1598, the centuries-old Rurikid dynasty became extinct . In the following thirty years the country plunged into serious political unrest ( time of turmoil ).


    • Norbert Angermann : Studies on Ivan Groznyj's Livonia policy (= Marburg East Research. Vol. 32). Herder Institute, Marburg (Lahn) 1972, ISBN 3-87969-098-7 (also: Hamburg, University, dissertation, 1972).
    • Erich Donnert : The Livonian Knightly Order and Russia. The Livonian War and the Baltic Question in European Politics 1558–1583. Rütten & Löning, Berlin 1963.
    • Werner Näf : The Epochs of Modern History. State and state community from the end of the Middle Ages to the present (= List books. Vol. 358/360). Volume 1. List, Munich 1970.
    • Knud Rasmussen: The Livonian Crisis 1554–1561 (= Københavns Universitets Slaviske Institute. Vol. 1). Universitetsforlaget, Copenhagen 1973, ISBN 87-505-0230-1 (also: Copenhagen, University, dissertation, 1973).
    • Reinhard Wittram : Baltic history. The Baltic countries of Livonia, Estonia, Courland 1180–1918 . Oldenbourg, Munich 1954.

    Web links

    Commons : Livonian War  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


    1. Reinhard Wittram: Baltic history. The Baltic countries of Livonia, Estonia, Courland 1180–1918 . Oldenbourg, Munich 1954, p. 66.
    2. Dietrich Beyrau , Rainer Lindner (ed.): Handbook of the history of Belarus. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-36255-2 , p. 93.
    3. a b c Dietrich Beyrau, Rainer Lindner (ed.): Handbook of the history of Belarus. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-36255-2 , p. 94
    4. Heinz von zur Mühlen : The East Baltic under the rule and influence of the neighboring powers (1561-1710 / 1795) . In: Gert von Pistohlkors (ed.): German history in Eastern Europe. Baltic countries . Siedler, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-88680-214-0 , pp. 173–264, here p. 182.
    5. Enn Tarvel: Church and citizenship in the Baltic cities in the 16th and 17th centuries . In: Matthias Asche, Werner Buchholz, Anton Schindling (eds.): The Baltic countries in the age of the Reformation and confessionalization. Livonia, Estonia, Ösel, Ingermanland and Latgale. Stadt, Land und Konfession 1500–1721 , Vol. 3, Aschendorff, Münster 2011, pp. 17–99, here p. 59.
    6. In a mutual correspondence, both rulers insulted each other at the lowest level. So wrote z. B. John III. to Ivan IV, after he had written to him that Johann was of minor origin: "If we hadn't heard that your father was a Grand Duke in Russia, we would have reason to assume that some monk or peasant fellow was your father" . Furthermore, Johann rose to further remarks that Ivan IV had a "higher pig mind" and was a "stinking liar". In: Jörg-Peter Findeisen : Sweden. From the beginning to the present. Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 1997, ISBN 3-7917-1561-5 , p. 104.
    7. Dietrich Beyrau, Rainer Lindner (ed.): Handbook of the history of Belarus. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-36255-2 , p. 96.