Battle of Tannenberg (1410)

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Coordinates: 53 ° 29 ′ 0 ″  N , 20 ° 5 ′ 40 ″  E

Battle of Tannenberg
Part of: Poland-Lithuania against Teutonic Order /
Lithuanian Wars of the Teutonic Order
Depiction in the Bern Chronicle by Diebold Schilling the Elder around 1483
Depiction in the Bern Chronicle by Diebold Schilling the Elder around 1483
date July 15, 1410
place Stębark / Tannenberg , Masuria
output Victory of the Polish-Lithuanian army
Parties to the conflict

POL Przemysł II 1295 COA.svg Kingdom of Poland, Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Coat of arms of Lithuania.svg

Insignia Germany Order Teutonic.svg German medal


King Władysław II Jagiełło
Grand Duke Vytautas

Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen

Troop strength
up to 39,000 men up to 27,000 men


Heavy losses

The Battle of Tannenberg (referred to in Polish as Bitwa pod Grunwaldem , Battle of Grunwald and in Lithuanian as Žalgirio mūšis ) was fought on July 15, 1410 in the Prussian Order not far from the towns of Tannenberg and Green Field . The army of the Teutonic Knights under Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen and contingents of the Prussian estates and an unknown number of mercenaries along with Western and Central European knights wore there the crucial meeting against a joint military force of the Kingdom of Poland under King Władysław II. Jagiełło and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under Grand Duke Vytautas .

The armed conflict between the Order of Knights and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which has been going on for a century, as well as the latent rivalry between the German Order and the Kingdom of Poland, which has been in personal union with Lithuania since 1386 , reached its climax in this battle. The heavy defeat of the armed forces of the Teutonic Order marks the beginning of the decline of the order's rule in Prussia and the rise of Poland-Lithuania to a major European power. The conflict is considered one of the greatest battles between medieval armies of knights and has been part of the national myth of Poland and Lithuania since the 19th century .


Teutonic Order in 1410

The immediate cause of the conflict was, besides the Pomeranian disputes between the Teutonic Order and Poland since 1309 , the region of Shamaites in western Lithuania , which has been the land connection between Livonia and the Prussian heartland , which has been bitterly fought on campaigns on both sides since 1303 . Samogitia, as this landscape was called in the Middle Ages, was awarded the Teutonic Order by Vytautas in the Treaty of Sallinwerder in 1398 , which was confirmed again in 1404 by the Kingdom of Poland due to diplomatic pressure from Pope Innocent VII .

As a result of carried out in 1402 pledging the east of the Oder situated Electoral Brandenburg Neumark to the Teutonic Order, Poland also showed interest in the acquisition, the already tense relationship between the Teutonic Order and the Kingdom of Poland deteriorated.

The Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas also supported the Shamaites, who were dissatisfied with the rule of the order, out of power-political interests, so that in 1409 there was an open uprising against the order's rule. Both the Grand Duke and the Shamaites were supported by Vytautas' relative, the Polish King Władysław II Jagiełło. The Grand Master of the Order took the open partisanship of the Polish nobility in favor of the rebels as an opportunity to declare the " feud " on 6 August 1409 to Poland - and also to Lithuania .

In the autumn of 1409 mercenaries of the order conquered the Dobriner Land , attacked lighter riders in Kujawien and besieged Bromberg . The Kingdom of Poland and Vytautas of Lithuania were initially unable to raise a promising military exemption due to the relatively late season . In addition, winter was approaching, which justified the Grand Master's decision to withdraw his mercenaries from Kuyavia and Bromberg.

On October 8, an armistice was concluded that was limited to Sankt Johanni (June 24 of the following year). In January the last attempt to reach a settlement was made: The Bohemian King Wenceslaus IV , called on for arbitration, granted the order the right to dispose of Shamaites on February 15, 1410 on the basis of the contract to Sallinwerder. However, this judgment was not accepted by either the Polish nobility or the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Vytautas. The opponents prepared intensively for a military decision during the summer of 1410. This war, known as the “great streyth” , culminated in a meeting of the armies not far from Tannenberg.

Course of the campaign in the summer of 1410

Both sides were determined to bring about a final decision by a campaign during the summer of 1410, if possible in a decisive field battle . In the winter of 1409/10 a Polish-Lithuanian consultation took place in Brest-Litowsk , at which a campaign plan was drawn up. For the first time there should be coordinated warfare. The plan was to pull together against the Marienburg , to conquer the main house of the order and thus to weaken the order decisively.

Starting position in early summer

As early as the spring of 1410, the opponents of the war began to collect their respective poses. The German Order mobilized the available forces all Commanderies and ordered at the same time, the array of cities and the local gentry. The Livonian landmaster Conrad von Vytinghove , however, rejected the Grand Master and invoked an armistice agreement with Grand Duke Vytautas. This explains the absence of the entire Livonian branch of the order , which should have lasting consequences for the balance of power. Unaware of the intentions of his opponents, Ulrich von Jungingen suspected an attack from the area of ​​Bromberg or from Lithuania and waited until the opponent took action.

In late spring the King of Poland stayed in the field camp near Wolbórz, southeast of Łódź , where he had sent the mass of his banners from all over Poland. The king was always well informed about the actions of his adversary through sources in the country of the order. On June 26th, the main Polish army set out north. At the end of June, Grand Duke Vytautas appeared as agreed with the Lithuanian contingent along with various Tatar troops and the Belarusian contingents. At the same time a Polish force was gathering not far from Bromberg under the command of the local starost . These departments should be offensive in the Neumark.

The way to Tannenberg

Map of the 1410 campaign with the decisive meeting near Tannenberg

The campaign began on June 30th with the crossing of the Vistula near Czerwińsk nad Wisłą by the Polish army over a pontoon bridge, which was new for the time . There the army met with the Lithuanians approaching north of the river and their auxiliaries. The united army moved into a fortified camp not far from Bieżuń and was now located directly on the border of the Teutonic Order state . From so-called letters of renunciation sent from there by the Dukes Semovit and Janusz of Mazovia and other nobles, the Grand Master and his advisors were able to identify the location of the Polish-Lithuanian main armed forces for the first time without any doubt. In addition, there were first skirmishes in the Neumark at the end of June, which prompted Ulrich von Jungingen to leave part of his army under the proven Commander Heinrich von Plauen at Schwetz . The Order's army moved to Soldau on July 2nd, near which there was already an advanced division under the Order's Marshal Friedrich von Wallenrode . There she holed up near Kauernick on the banks of the Dwerenz River. The army of the Polish king, which was then concentrated in the Order's land, as well as the armed forces of Grand Duke Vytautas avoided a tactically disadvantageous confrontation in front of the fortified entrenchments of the Order's army . For their part, the allies tried to bypass the order's army to the east and stormed the fortified settlements of Soldau and Neidenburg on July 8th .

The main army of the order was only a few kilometers west of the scene when it came to the storming of Gilgenburg on July 13th by Lithuanians and Tatars. Presumably because of the events there and the devastation of Gilgenburg, Ulrich von Jungingen ordered the army to leave immediately with the aim of confronting the enemy immediately. After a heavy thunderstorm fell the following night over the camp of the Order's army not far from Frögenau and the entire Tannenberg heathland, the armies had been facing each other between the villages of Grünstelde and Tannenberg as well as Ludwigsdorf and Faulen since the morning of July 15 .

Strength and position of the two armies

The traditional information about the strength of the two armies differ considerably. They range from 26,000 to 39,000 fighters for the Polish-Lithuanian army and from 11,000 to 27,000 for the order army. Jan Długosz , the later chronicler of the battle, whose father took part in it, does not give any figures, but it is possible to make an estimate based on his list of the banners involved, for the order army as well as the Polish nobility: This is how the war contingents were included Prussian estates around 20,000 men under the flag of the order, while the Kingdom of Poland led 15,000 more or less well-armed fighters into the field. These estimates do not take into account the number of Lithuanians, Tatars, Ruthenians and Belarusians under Vytautas' command. The British military historian Stephen Turnbull estimates that the army of the Teutonic Order was 27,000 strong, which of their opponents comprised a total of 39,000 men. This armed force was numerically superior to the order army, but the fighters of the order army were better armed and trained, especially compared to the Lithuanian forces.

The actual knights of the order formed a tiny minority in the army. Since each commandery, with the exception of the main houses in Marienburg and Königsberg, had only five to seven knights, there were at most four hundred knightly friars on the battlefield. However, the "sacred nimbus" of the order, which invoked the special protection of its patroness, the Virgin Mary , is to be assessed as of great psychological importance . The Teutonic Order had a reputation for being invincible due to this high patronage. This aspect was of great importance in the deeply religious late Middle Ages. He may also explain the later reluctance of the Polish king to give the order to attack the army of the order. On the Polish side, various prophecies , including those of Saint Birgitta , were spread in the run-up to the meeting in order to compensate for this psychological advantage of the order. With the Lithuanian troops, the sacred rules of Christianity had not yet prevailed, so this aspect was hardly significant.

King Władysław II organized his army into three lines. On the right wing stood the Lithuanians, Ruthenians and Lipka Tatars , commanded by Grand Duke Vytautas, who were lightly armed and armed, and on the left the Poles under the command of Jan Zyndram von Maszkowic and Zbigniew Kazimierz von Goblinic . The front line was nearly three kilometers long.

The order's army was originally also divided into three lines. When Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen recognized the long front of the Poles-Lithuanians, he regrouped them into two lines and thus broadened the line-up of his army in order not to be circumvented by the enemy. The majority of non-religious knights stood on the right wing of the order's army , grouped under the flag of St. George . On either side the knights were divided into banners. With the Lithuanians, the warriors were divided into tribal associations under the command of a boyar , parts of the infantry stayed behind to protect the army camps .

Crossbowmen stood in front of the banners of the knights of the order . Steinbüchsen took up position on a hill to the left of the order's army .

Because the army of the order had advanced arbitrarily on the orders of the Grand Master, it was now in a tactically disadvantageous position, since the bulk of the Polish-Lithuanian army was in a wooded area, so that an attack by the heavily armored knights was excluded. According to medieval combat tactics, emphasis was placed on winning the initiative by a frontal cavalry attack on an opponent in the area. The Army of the Order was denied this option due to the circumstances. So it had to remain defensive and await the attack of the Polish-Lithuanian army, which had a detrimental effect under the summer conditions of July 15th.

Course of the battle

The real battle began around noon. Prior to this, Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen had, on the advice of the Order Marshal Wallenrod, had King Władysław and Vytautas each bring a bare sword and thus prompted an immediate fight. The chronicler Jan Długosz gives the alleged wording:

“It is the custom of warlike fighters, when one army is waiting for the other to fight, it sends a sword to the other to challenge it for a fair fight on the battlefield. See, we are now offering you two swords, one for you, the king, the other for you, Duke Witold, in the name of the master, the marshal and the knights of the order, so that you can choose the battlefield where you are want him. Use them to help you, these swords, to start the quarrel. But do not hesitate and do not miss the time. Why are you hiding in the woods and hiding in order to escape the battle that you can no longer escape? "

- Johannes Longinus , Polish chronicler

This procedure, in accordance with the German chivalric tradition, seemed necessary to the Grand Master, since Władysław II could not decide to attack. From today's point of view, it is only possible to speculate about the king's motives, but it is quite understandable that he did not want to be seen as an aggressor against a Christian army under the patronage of the Holy Virgin. Lithuanian sources, on the other hand, describe the king as fearful - the Grand Duke even asked the king personally to end his devotions and finally order the attack. However, it is also conceivable that the king, on the advice of his experienced subordinates, wanted to weaken the army of the order, which was set up in battle order in the midday heat, by physically exhausting the heavily armed fighters and their warhorses in the run-up to the inevitable meeting.

Attack and counterattack on the left wing of the order army

Initial phase of the battle around noon: First attack by the Lithuanian wing and its retreat after the counterattack by the Order's army

Regardless of his request to Wladyslaw, Grand Duke Vytautas attacked his light cavalry on the right wing of the united army and opened the battle at noon. This attack caused the guns of the order's army to be fired prematurely. The use of the costly and logistically intensive "fire pipes" in a field battle subsequently turned out to be a tactical failure. The violent attack by their own troops on the left wing robbed the piece masters of their field of fire and the new type of weapon was also fraught with technical problems: the black powder , which was damp from the thunderstorm of the previous night , proved to be largely unusable. The accuracy of the field artillery , which was based on stone rifles at that time, also proved to be very poor at 150 meters, which had a lasting effect, especially in the defense against rapid horseback attacks. The artillery therefore showed little effect.

The counterattack of the heavy cavalry on the left wing of the order armed forces under the command of the order marshal Friedrich von Wallenrode showed the lightly equipped Lithuanian cavalry inferior. The heavily armored knights of the order's army pushed back the attackers, but instead of keeping a closed formation, they pursued the retreating enemy. But this dissolved the order of battle in this sector.

Attack followed by retreat, regrouping and counterattack was part of the usual fighting style of the light cavalry of the steppe peoples (Tatars, Bessarabians, Wallachians), but this time this regrouping did not succeed and the Lithuanians and Tatars fled. Whether this apparent withdrawal of large parts of the Lithuanian contingent was a ruse or more or less a well-used coincidence is a question that is still debated today. Older Polish sources report that the Lithuanians simply fled. This interpretation is supported by Lithuanian data accusing the Polish king of abandoning the Lithuanians at the beginning of the battle.

Three Belarusian banners, which, according to the battle plan, were supposed to keep up with the Polish contingents, did not join the general retreat on the Lithuanian wing. The Belarusians tried, however, to withdraw in an orderly manner towards the center in order to catch up with the Polish banners. With the exception of the Smolensk banner, these departments were completely destroyed.

Fight on the right wing

Depiction of the Royal Polish Imperial Spaniard temporarily lost to the Order on the left wing of the Polish Army

A little later attack of the Polish knighthood against the right wing of the order's army under the Grand Commander Kuno von Lichtenstein was stopped by the fifteen banners of the Prussian Commanderies and by knightly guests of the order. The battle among those who were largely equally armed remained undecided for the time being. However, the Polish Imperial Spaniard briefly fell into the hands of the order. The Poles immediately recaptured it in a surprising counter-attack under the leadership of the knight Zawisza Czarny , according to legend, because the knights of the order were distracted from the battle as a result of the triumphant singing of the chant: Christ is risen (victory hymn of the order).

According to medieval understanding, the fall of the opposing main banner meant the death or capture of the enemy general, which many warriors of the Order's army suspected due to the spatial distance to the immediate events and, considering the apparently evacuated Lithuanian retreat, interpreted this as the final victory. This fact explains the voicing of the victory chorale documented in the sources.

Since King Wladyslaw, contrary to Western European tradition, did not stay in the immediate vicinity of the lost main banner, but instead watched the battle from a distance together with Jan Zyndram von Maszkowic, the fall of the banner remained an episode. For a short time, some reserve banners under Zawisza Czarny were used in this battle phase, which was critical for Poland, in order to wrest the imperial Spaniards, which were extremely important as an optical fixed point, from the knights of the order by temporarily overweight.

Attack by the racing banner and the Kulmer knighthood under Ulrich von Jungingen

See article: Ulrich von Jungingen
Depiction of the battle from the Lucerne Schilling by Diebold Schilling the Younger ; around 1515

The Grand Master then tried personally with his 15 reserve banners , including the Grand Master's racing banner , an elite of the Knighthood , to circumvent the Polish right wing, which had been exposed by the withdrawal of the Lithuanians, in order to fall on the flank of the enemy and bring about a decision in his favor . In doing so, however, the Kulmer knighthood , which had been united in the Lizard League since 1397, refused to obey him. For this reason and as a result of the resolute defense of the Poles, the attack failed. Fighting on the front line, Ulrich von Jungingen took the same risk as the fighters he led; He paid with his life for the unsuccessful maneuver and his daring.

The Grand Master there proved to be devoted to the ideals of chivalry , which later turned out to be fatal. Jungingen showed himself to posterity as a brave warrior, but not as a far-sighted general who was able to organize sustained resistance even in the event of a lost meeting. The Grand Master seemed to have ruled out a critical phase in the battle or a generally lost meeting. The accompanying loss of any coordinated leadership can be explained with the death of the general. In addition, there was the distribution of the large areas , i.e. the potential deputies, to the individual wings, which made uniform leadership impossible. Order Marshal Friedrich von Wallenrode , commander of the far advanced left wing, had probably already fallen by this time, while Grand Commander Kuno von Lichtenstein was trying to maintain the grounds in isolation on the right wing of the Order's army.

The Tannenberg boiler

Last phase of the meeting in the late afternoon; The previous flank attack under Ulrich von Jungingen is shown in blue

After the fall of the Grand Master's banner, the order of the Order's army began to break up in the late afternoon. Without leadership, the army of the order was unable to offer an orderly resistance, and the battle was bogged down in bitter skirmishes between the individual banners and even knights isolated from the main army. The Commander of Schlochau , Arnold von Baden , is mentioned by name. The holding of the Grand Commander in existing positions made it easier for the Polish cavalry to encircle this part of the army. On the other hand, on the Polish side, the king and his advisor Jan Zyndram von Maszkowic led Bohemian infantry into battle, which upset the already thinned ranks of the order's army. Lithuanian forces returning to the battlefield shifted the balance of power again to the disadvantage of the order, whose rest of the army was now surrounded on the flanks. Individual units escaped destruction by fleeing. Among them were the only surviving Großgebietiger , the Großspittler of the Teutonic Order and at the same time Komtur von Elbing , Werner von Tettlingen and the Komtur von Danzig , Johann von Schönfels and the Komtur von Balga Friedrich von Zollern.

Retreating forces tried a final defense at the camp of the Order's army near Frögenau, but were finally defeated by the Polish-Lithuanian army and parts of their own entourage, which abruptly changed fronts in view of the situation. The camp was stormed and looted. The chronicler writes:

“The enemy camps with great supplies and riches, the wagons and the entire entourage of the Grand Master and the Prussian knighthood fell into the hands of the Polish soldiers. In the Crusader camp, some wagons were found that were only loaded with chains and ties. Certain of their victory and not asking God for it, preoccupied more with the future triumph than with the battle, they had prepared this for the shackling of the Poles. There were other wagons full of pine wood, including tow soaked with tallow and pitch , with which they wanted to chase the defeated and fleeing Poles in front of them. Too early they rejoiced in their victory, proud of themselves and not considering that victory was in God's hands. So God justly punished their arrogance, because the Poles tied them with these same irons and fetters. These chains and ties, which the Crusaders had forged for themselves, were a shattering example of the impermanence of human affairs, as were the chariots and the hostile camp with their great fortunes, which were devastated by the Polish knights within a quarter of an hour, so that not the slightest trace of them remained. "

- Johannes Longinus, Polish chronicler

Consequences of the defeat of the knightly order

Immediate consequences of the battle

This reliquary, made in Elbing in 1388, was captured by Poland
Letter to the Grand Master ("Liber her meister") with advice on future tactics

On both sides, the outcome of the battle was seen as a “ judgment of God ”. The battle had cost many victims. Reliable figures do not exist. Contemporary sources speak of 50,000 to 100,000 dead, wounded and prisoners, but such figures are arguably exaggerations. In addition to the Grand Master, with a few exceptions, the entire leadership class (major, commander) of the order perished.

The fallen, mostly completely plundered, were subsequently buried in mass graves, while only the corpse of the Grand Master was worthily transferred to Marienburg on the instructions of the king. The prisoners, among them Duke Conrad VII. "The old white man" von Oels , and Casimir, younger son of Duke Swantibor III. of Pomerania-Stettin , should be triggered at a later date for a ransom, which partly explains the immense amount of compensation in the later negotiated peace treaty of Thorn . First and foremost, the knightly prisoners were so-called guests of the order, since most of the knights had fallen. According to medieval sources, 202 knightly friars remained on the battlefield. The captive Commander of the Prussian Brandenburg , Markward von Salzbach , and the Vogt of the Samland , Heinrich Schaumburg , were executed by Vytautas on the battlefield due to earlier differences.

After the victory, the Polish-Lithuanian army camped near the battlefield for three more days. The allies invoked an ancient custom that gave warriors time to rest and plunder the fallen. On July 19, the army set off for the main house of the order, the Marienburg order castle . This took 11 days, as some of the resulting castles still had to be taken over. The defense of the Marienburg, about seventy kilometers by road from the battlefield near Tannenberg, was improvised by Heinrich von Plauen, the Commander of Schwetz. Scattered remains of the order's army also found refuge there.

The ensuing siege of Marienburg had to be broken off on September 19th due to stubborn resistance and insufficient supplies for the siege army. In addition, a force from Livonia had been advancing from the end of August . A typhoid fever - epidemic among the Lithuanians and Tatars and, not least, an attack of King Sigismund , a declared ally of the Order, from Hungary to the south of Poland had to cancel more motives for the Polish king, the siege.

The captured 51 banners of the Teutonic Order were brought in a solemn procession to the Kraków Wawel Cathedral in late autumn and displayed there as a symbol of victory over the “Krzyżacy” . Decades later, the Polish chronicler Johannes Longinus described the banners as Banderia Prutenorum . They were last mentioned in the early 17th century, but some of them still existed around 1800. However, their whereabouts after this time are unclear. The replicas in Cracow were brought to Marienburg in 1940 when the flags of the Teutonic Knights were brought in.

The remaining friars subsequently elected Commander Heinrich von Plauen as the new Grand Master. He then led a series of lawsuits against knights who had allegedly failed in the battle of Tannenberg, as well as against castle bailiffs who had prematurely surrendered their permanent houses to the enemy. The most prominent defendant was the leader of the Lizard League and standard-bearer in the Battle of Tannenberg, Nicolaus von Renys . After further anti-religious actions, he was executed for high treason in 1411 in Graudenz .

Long term effects

In the long term, the defeat in the Battle of Tannenberg meant the economically advantageous connection of Prussia to Poland's resources and consequently the beginning of the end of its territorial rule in Prussia based on medieval legal conditions for the Teutonic Order. The myth of the “godly” invincibility of the order's army was finally broken at Tannenberg. It was still possible to defend Marienburg against the attack of the Poles and Lithuanians, but in the First Peace of Thorn on February 1, 1411, the Order State had to cede some disputed areas to Poland-Lithuania and pay 100,000 shock Czech groschen in compensation.

As a result, his economic and financial situation deteriorated dramatically. Maritime trade declined with the gradual decline of the Hanseatic League and latent contradictions such as the demand for the participation of the cantons in the rule of the country and questions about the provision of taxes broke open within Prussian society.

The negotiated in Thorn contributions stressed the Order and the Prussian estates financially extraordinary and ultimately led in 1454 to the uprising of 1440 in Elbing for " Prussian League (also known as" covenant against violence ")" federated estates against feudal tyranny of the knights.

The reputation of the order was also permanently damaged as a result of the defeat, because at the Council of Constance Poland and Lithuania were not condemned as aggressors against Christians, as the order sought. The pagan mission in Lithuania finally lost its legitimacy. The Pope and Emperor denied the order all claims to allegedly pagan land in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The idea of ​​forced conversion had to be finally given up, which called into question the right of the religious order to exist in the Baltic States.

The Thirteen Years' War, which broke out in 1454 between the Teutonic Knight Order and the Kingdom of Poland and the Prussian cities allied with its king, also known as the dirty war , ended with a heavy defeat for the order and led to the division of Prussia in the Second Peace of Thorn in 1466 . On the basis of this contract, the western part of the religious state (“Prussian royal share”) came under the sovereignty of the Polish king, the grand master contractually undertook to take the Polish king's feudal oath. The Grand Master, who had previously acted as sovereign, lost his reputation immensely and had to accept the subordinate rank of vassal of the Polish crown. In this way the rise of Poland-Lithuania to a new great power in Europe could continue.


Grunwald cross in gold, with the two swords of Grunwald

On the night before the decisive meeting, a mysterious celestial spectacle is said to have taken place in front of the full moon over the field: the shadow of a king and a monk fought bitterly until the monk, a symbol of the sacred knighthood of the Teutonic Order, was finally defeated . In retrospect, this event was interpreted as a favorable omen for a Polish victory.

During the battle, St. Stanislaus of Cracow is said to have shown himself above the Polish army, underlining the heavenly support of the Polish cause. The diffuse figure apparently hovered for some time, surrounded by an aureole of light, over the fighting and blessed the multitudes going into battle.

The two swords presented to the Polish king and Lithuanian grand duke for tactical considerations were already considered by contemporaries and posterity as a symbol of "Teutonic pride" , which God punished immediately. In Poland, these legendary swords were commemorated in the form of the military award with the so-called Grunwald cross in three classes (gold, silver and bronze) until the 1990s . Gravestones of Polish soldiers who died in World War II also bear this symbolism.

The first verbal and later also written dissemination of these facts was carried out with propaganda intentions under the aspect of the increasing contradiction between the Kingdom of Poland and the Prussian estates on the one hand and the Teutonic Order on the other. This conflict eventually culminated in the Thirteen Years War. With reference to religiously interpreted phenomena, the claims of Poland should be legitimized and the Order should be ideologically damaged. Similar intentions apply to the Polish reception of the battle in the 19th century under the conditions of Polish partition, with the partitioning powers taking on the role of the order.

Name and location

The battle was fought on the heathland between the villages of Grünstelde, Tannenberg and Ludwigsdorf in what would later become East Prussia . Gilgenburg was the closest town. In 1410 the Polish king stated in a Latin letter "Grunenvelt" as the site of the battle. In the chronicle of the Polish chronicler Johannes Longinus , written decades later, the term “Grunwald” is mentioned, in Polish historiography the term Battle of Grunwald ( Bitwa pod Grunwaldem ) has been used since then ; and the historical paintings of Jan Matejko that name. Lithuanian historiography translated the supposed "Grünwald" into "Žalgiris". 535 years after the battle, after the expulsion of Germans after the Second World War , the village of Tannenberg was renamed "Stębark" according to old names and the village of Grünstelde was renamed "Grunwald" according to Polish usage.

In (West) German parlance, the battle at Tannenberg is generally spoken of, while in the GDR historical literature, largely in line with the Polish model, the battle at Grunwald was mentioned. The Battle of Grunwald is also spoken of in Russian, Czech, Estonian, Latvian, Romanian, Serbian and Hungarian, as well as in English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. In contrast, the battle of Tannenberg is spoken of in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Bulgarian and Croatian.


The Grunwald Monument on Matejko Square in
Krakow, inaugurated by Paderewski in 1910

Polish receptions

The Battle of Grunwald is one of the most important national myths in Polish history. Especially in the 123 years in which the nation was divided between the neighboring countries Russia , Austria and Prussia / Germany , the story of the victory of the united Polish-Lithuanian armies over the colonizers of the Teutonic Order became a meaningful heroic tale that helped against the Russification or Germanization policy of the partition powers to preserve their own cultural identity .

Jan Matejko's battle painting

Special importance was while removing generated in the years 1872 to 1878 painting of the history painter Jan Matejko , who in those days to Austria-Hungary belonging Krakow , the relative freedom of a relatively liberal cultural policy enjoyed.

Matejko based his presentation on the extremely powerful story of the Lviv historian Karol Szajnocha Jagiełło and Jadwiga 1374 to 1413 , which was created in 1855 and formed the “obligatory reference point” for all Polish commemoration of the battle throughout the 19th century. His monumental picture of 4.26 x 9.87 meters summarizes three different scenes of the battle: On the one hand in the upper right corner the failed attack by knights of the order on King Władysław II Jagiełło, on the top left the conquest of the camp of the knights of the order at the end of the battle and in the middle the death of Ulrich von Jungingen. In the center of the picture, but outside of the action, the Lithuanian Grand Duke Vytautas the Great can be seen with a raised sword and without any armor. Matejko portrays him as the commander of the Polish army. The actual strategist of the battle, King Władysław II Jagiełło, only plays a subordinate role for him, because Matejko followed the portrayal of Jan Długosz , a chronicler whose father also fought at Grunwald and who years later gave the son details of the meeting.

Bitwa pod Grunwaldem (“Battle of Grunwald”) , historical painting by Jan Matejko , oil on canvas, 1872–1878, National Museum Warsaw

On this painting “painted with anger”, the painter adapted the reality of his intended effect: Various anachronisms in armament and armor and deviations from historical reality can be identified.

Matejko's painting was enthusiastically received by the public. On October 29, 1878, the painter received a scepter of honor from the Kraków city council as "King of Painters". The painting was repeatedly reprinted in magazines, on postcards and in history books for school, so that it still shapes the Poles' ideas about the battle today. During the Second World War it was kept hidden from the Wehrmacht and the SS , who wanted to confiscate and destroy it. It was also held in honor during the era of socialism, as the myth that the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order was slain by simple peasants allowed the battle to be interpreted as a class struggle . Today the picture hangs in the National Museum in Warsaw. There, in March 2005 , the Polish politician Lech Kaczyński from the national conservative PiS announced his candidacy for the office of Polish President in front of Matejko's painting. In the years 2011–2012 the work was extensively restored.

Sienkiewicz's historical novel Krzyżacy (The Crusaders)

Henryk Sienkiewicz

Matejko's work also inspired the best-known literary design of the subject , namely the historical novel Krzyżacy (in German translation Die Kreuzritter ) by Henryk Sienkiewicz, who later won the Nobel Prize for Literature . Here, in a kind of literary black and white painting, the late medieval disputes between Poles and Germans are portrayed as a struggle between good and evil. The cultural-political disputes in the province of Posen , where Sienkiewicz lived, can be clearly seen as a foil. Despite its woodcut-like layout, the novel was a great success and provided the model for numerous popular stories about the Battle of Grunwald. The novel was around 1960, directed by Aleksander Ford filmed . During the occupation by the German Wehrmacht during World War II , many fighters of the Polish underground army chose cover names from Sienkiewicz's novel.

Polish aspirations for independence at the beginning of the 20th century

The anniversary of the battle was first celebrated as a national festival in 1902, with the scandalous child abuse during the Wreschen school strike being the trigger. For the five hundredth anniversary, which took place from July 15 to 17, 1910, not on the Prussian battlefield but in Krakow, 150,000 Poles from all three areas and from abroad came together - more than Krakow had inhabitants at the time. The highlight of this largest national rally during the entire period of division was the ceremonial unveiling of a Grunwald monument by the sculptor Antoni Wiwulski , which the famous Polish-American pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski had financed. A considerable production of various texts - from patriotic songs to historical treatises and souvenirs - contributed to the fact that the feeling of national solidarity against Prussia-Germany was sustainably strengthened.

Reception in contemporary history and the present

After the restoration of Polish independence in 1918, the memory of the Grunwald victory was taken over by the state. The battle became one of the central points of interest in the history lessons previously organized by the partitioning powers , almost every Polish city now received an ulica Grunwaldzka , a plac Grunwaldzki or a most Grunwaldzki .

Even after the Second World War , Poland, which was occupied by the Wehrmacht for almost six years, was reminded of the “Triumph of Grunwald”: in 1945 the graphic artist Tadeusz Trepkowski (1914–1954) associated the Battle of Grunwald with the Battle of Berlin in early 1945 on a poster , in which Polish contingents were also involved. In this administratively controlled manner next to the stoking anti-German resentment the memory of the Soviet invasion in 1939 in eastern Poland and took place after the war forced resettlement of Poles from the now to should the Soviet Union belong to Ukraine are displaced.

On July 15, 1960, the 550th anniversary of the battle, the Grunwald Memorial was inaugurated.

Reenactment on the historical battlefield in 2003: The actors of the Polish king and Jan Zyndrams von Maszkowic

A movement with nationalist tendencies that was created by the communist Polish security service in 1981 as a counterweight to Solidarność also bore the name Grunwald . It was one of the last attempts to place the battle and the memory of the victory over the Teutonic Order in the service of communist ideology. After the end of martial law in Poland in 1983, this attempt was discontinued due to non-acceptance.

In today's Polish society, the unreserved glorification of Grunwald, apart from the view of ultra-nationalist circles, is increasingly giving way to a differentiated image that reaches into the ironic. This was formed not least under the aspect of an annual historical spectacle on the former battlefield from an increasingly commercial point of view. Since the 1990s, the memory of the battle of 1410 has been kept in mind through ever more extensive " reenactments ", that is, through historical battle scenes recreated by traditional groups. In view of this annual event, a Polish magazine ran an ironic headline in the summer of 1998: "The crusaders are tired of only losing, that's why they want to be victorious next year."

That such an approach could not diminish the national pride in victory is proven by the fact that a number of sports clubs were named after the battle site.

The commemoration of the victory in 1410 is still very vivid today and makes it possible to call up subliminal anti-German resentments with brief allusions . For example, during the European Football Championship in 2008, before a preliminary round match between the German and Polish national teams, various Polish tabloids were used to commemorate the defeat of the Teutonic Order in battle.

In July 2010, as part of the 600th anniversary of the battle, the reigning Grand Master of the Teutonic Order Bruno Platter gave a speech and laid a wreath in the historic area near Stębark after an official invitation from the Polish President.

600th anniversary of the Battle of Tannenberg. The guests of the anniversary celebration at the event (seated from left to right): Klich , Platter , Băsescu , Komorowski , Grybauskaitė , Schetyna , and Ghimpu . Poland, 2010

Reception in Lithuania

Belarusian postage stamp on the occasion of the 600th anniversary (Belarusian regiments fought in the Lithuanian contingent)

Especially in connection with the recent history of this state, the late Middle Ages are seen as the "great times" of Lithuania. This view is primarily the result of the great gains in Lithuanian territory in the east during the 14th century and the victorious outcome of the generational conflict with the Teutonic Order in the first decade of the 15th century. The Polish-Lithuanian personal union was, however, always viewed with suspicion in the Lithuanian home countries. Although Lithuania, together with Poland, succeeded in becoming a major Eastern European power in the 15th and 16th centuries, the nation shared the decline of Poland in the course of the 17th century. The latent rivalry between Lithuania and the actually allied Poles is particularly evident in the assessment of the Battle of Tannenberg. In this context, the Lithuanian chroniclers accuse the Poles of failing to provide assistance. Overall, the country believed that the respect for its army and the role of its Grand Duke Vytautas in the battle of Žalgiris was blatantly undervalued.

This attitude continues to the present day. Proof of this is the production of a separate feature film about the battle, which was completed in 2008, as Lithuania's presence in Aleksander Ford's production from 1960 was reduced to an extra role.

The unbroken pride of the Lithuanians in the battle they won against the Teutonic Order is evidenced by the renaming of a Lithuanian sports club to Vilnius FK Žalgiris .

Memory from a Prussian-German perspective

Heinrich von Treitschke
Heinrich Himmler, photo by F. Bauer , 1942

The Teutonic Order was viewed as aloof in Protestant Prussia, not least because of armed conflicts with the Prussian estates in the middle of the 15th century. It was not until the middle of the 19th century that the historian Heinrich von Treitschke played a major role in a change in public opinion: from then on, the order embodied the “German mission in the East” and took on the role of a “cultural bearer against Slavicism” in historiography. . With regard to the Battle of Tannenberg, a revision of the historical picture was made from a relatively neutral assessment to the representation of a tragic defeat. This view is impressively reflected in the novel Heinrich von Plauen by Ernst Wichert . It speaks of the heroically beautiful Ulrich von Jungingen as the antagonist of his cunningly ugly opponent Władysław II Jagiełło.

Under the impression of the integrative assessment of Tannenberg on the Polish side, at the end of the 19th century a move was made to counter the Polish commemorations with a “German component”. The result was an unreserved glorification of the Teutonic Order as the "colonizer of the German East" by nationalist circles in Wilhelmine Prussia.

The German myth of the Second Battle of Tannenberg in August 1914, in which the Imperial German Army destroyed the Second Russian Army under General Samsonov in a cauldron battle during the First World War , was also based on commemorative celebrations that are regularly celebrated on a small scale to this day . Paul von Hindenburg , who was in command at the time , expressed his wish to Emperor Wilhelm II to name the battle after Tannenberg, which was actually 15 kilometers away, in order to eradicate the "shame of 1410". With the construction of the Jungingenstein in 1901 and the monumental Tannenberg memorial in 1927, which was supposed to commemorate the victory of 1914, but was based on a medieval order castle in its architecture, should be thought of revenge in the first half of the 20th century for the defeat in World War I should be linked to the alleged continuity of history.

After 1933, the battle in the First World War was primarily commemorated, although the Teutonic Order received a certain appreciation in the sense of the Nazi doctrine of “people without space”. As early as 1924, Adolf Hitler glorified colonization in the East in his book Mein Kampf . The high point of the nationalist memory was the burial of Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, who died in 1934, in the Tannenberg memorial.

Heinrich Himmler ordered the complete destruction of Warsaw against the background of the Warsaw uprising in 1944 and referred to the fact that Warsaw was “the capital, the head, the intelligence” of the Polish people , “which has blocked the east for us for 700 years and us since in the way of the first battle near Tannenberg. "

After the end of the Second World War , with the loss of the German eastern territories, the two battles near Tannenberg also fell from the focus of public interest.


Contemporary chronicles

Source editions

  • Theodor Hirsch , Max Toeppen, Ernst Strehlke: Scriptores rerum Prussicarum . The historical sources of the Prussian prehistoric times up to the fall of the order. Volume 3–5, Leipzig 1861–1874.
  • Juozas Jurginis: H. Latvis, H. Vartbergė. Livonijos kronikos. , annotated translation by Chronicon Livoniae . Vilnius 1991.

Scientific literature


  • Mečislovas Jučas: Žalgirio mūšis. [The Battle of Grunwald]. Baltos Lankos, Vilnius 1999, ISBN 9986-861-95-0 , Reception .
  • Mečislovas Jučas: Krikščionybės kelias į Lietuvą. Etapai ir problem-free. [The way of Christianity to Lithuania]. Baltos lankos, Vilnius 2001, ISBN 9955-429-27-5 .
  • Vytenis Almonaitis: Žemaitijos politinė padėtis 1380–1410 metais. [The political situation in Lower Lithuania in the years 1380-1410]. Vytauto Didiojo universitetas, Kaunas 1998, ISBN 9986-501-27-X .



  • Henryk Sienkiewicz : Krzyżacy ; [The Crusaders]; 1900.
  • Ernst Wichert : Heinrich von Plauen . Historical novel from the German East. Schild-Verlag, Munich 1959 (2 volumes, reprint of the edition of the German Book Association Berlin, 1881)
  • Silke Urbanski : For the freedom of Hamburg ; [Emons Verlag] Cologne; 2011.
  • James A. Michener, 'Poland', Chapter III 'From the West' [Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd., 1983 / Corgi, 1984]

Web links

Commons : Schlacht bei Tannenberg (1410)  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Written representations

Visual and heraldic representations

Individual evidence

  1. In the chronicle of Johann von Polsilge it says regarding the devastation of the Dobriner Land by the order's army : “slow may advance windin” ((the damage) is difficult to get over); in: Ernst Strehlke: Scriptores rerum Prussicarum vol. 3, p. 39.
  2. Medieval campaigns were mostly carried out in the summer months, because at that time the supply of the army with feed for the horses was the cheapest. In addition, there was a deadline for the Polish noblemen, which ruled out military service after the Agapitus Day (August 18) for the year in question.
  3. "Big dispute" - that's what the order's historiography called war.
  4. The Chronicle of Johann von Posilge describes the atrocities committed by the Tatars and Lithuanians against the population: … and czog against Gilgenburg and won dyr stad against obyrhoupt and burnante sy; and slug dead young and old; and committed such a great mort with the heyden, that it is unsegular ... in: Theodor Hirsch, Max Toeppen, Ernst Strehlke: Scriptores rerum Prussicarum . The historical sources of the Prussian prehistoric times up to the fall of the order. Volume 3; Ernst Strehke: III. Franciscani Thorunensis Annales Prussici (941-1410). IV. Johanns von Posilge, Officials von Pomesanien, Chronik des Landes Prussen (from 1360 on, continued until 1419); P. 315.
  5. a b Dieter Zimmerling: Der Deutsche Ritterorden , p. 250.
  6. a b c Stephen Turnbull: Tannenberg 1410 Disaster for the Teutonic Knights (= Osprey Campaign Series. No. 122.) London 2003.
  7. a b c d e f Johannes Longinus (Jan Długosz): Banderia Prutenorum .
  8. The lexicon of the Middle Ages, however, names 12 to 15,000 armed men for the order's army and 20,000 for its opponents, Art. Ulrich von Jungingen .
  9. ^ Theodor Hirsch, Max Toeppen, Ernst Strehlke: Scriptores rerum Prussicarum. The historical sources of the Prussian prehistoric times up to the fall of the order. Volume 3, p. 143.
  10. ^ Theodor Hirsch, Max Toeppen, Ernst Strehlke: Scriptores rerum Prussicarum. The historical sources of the Prussian prehistoric times up to the fall of the order. Volume 3, p. 85.
  11. ^ Theodor Hirsch, Max Toeppen, Ernst Strehlke: Scriptores rerum Prussicarum. The historical sources of the Prussian prehistoric times up to the fall of the order. Volume 3, p. 179.
  12. ^ A b c Dieter Zimmerling: The German order of knights. P. 252.
  13. ^ Mečislovas Jučas: Žalgirio mūšis. P. 126.
  14. ^ Johann von Posilge: Chronicle of the Land of Prussia. In: Scriptores rerum prussicarum. ed. by Theodor Hirsch, Max Töppen, Ernst Strehlke, Volume 3, Leipzig 1866, p. 267; CDP, Vol. 5, pp. 174-175.
  15. Cronica conflictus Wladislai regis Poloniae, cum cruciferis anno Christi 1410 , edited by Zygmunt Celichowski, p. 24.
  16. CEV, p. 232 (register); Orig. - GStA PK, OBA 1772 (the order's envoy reproduces the speeches of drunken Lithuanian nobles in 1412; CEV. Pp. 256-258 - simultaneous statement by Vytautas about his alleged rights to Prussian territories)
  17. ^ Dieter Zimmerling: The German order of knights. P. 253.
  18. The Chronicle of Johann von Posilge comments on this: And the Polan qwoman en zwu help, and it became en gosir stryt, and the master with his slugen drystut goes through with, and the king gave way, so the dese sang: " Crist is erupted ” in: Theodor Hirsch, Max Toeppen, Ernst Strehlke: Scriptores rerum Prussicarum. The historical sources of the Prussian prehistoric times up to the fall of the order. Volume 3, p. 316.
  19. ^ Dieter Zimmerling: The German order of knights. P. 254.
  20. ^ Wolfgang Sonthofen: The German Order. P. 138.
  21. The extent to which this insubordination had a lasting effect on the course of the battle is controversial among historians. Older German historians such as Heinrich von Treitschke (under: Hans Schleier: Sybel und Treitschke. Anti-democracy and militarism in the historical-political thinking of big bourgeois historical ideologists .; Writings of the Institute for History / German Academy of Sciences in Berlin; Series 1, General and German History; P. 73; Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1965) assign this issue a key role, while Polish and Lithuanian historians regard the event as a marginal episode.
  22. The chronicle of Johann von Posilge describes the process as follows: “And a number of villains, knights, servants of the country Culmen undiructen dy Colmer banyr and also andire banyr, dy do volatile, as the ir yarn little dofon qwam”. In: Theodor Hirsch, Max Toeppen, Ernst Strehlke: Scriptores rerum Prussicarum. The historical sources of the Prussian prehistoric times up to the fall of the order. Volume 3; Ernst Strehke: III. Franciscani Thorunensis Annales Prussici (941-1410). IV. Johanns von Posilge, Officials von Pomesanien, Chronik des Landes Prussen (from 1360 on, continued until 1419); P. 316.
  23. ^ Dieter Zimmerling: The German order of knights. P. 255.
  24. ^ Antoni Prochaska: Markward Salzbach. Z dziejów Litwy 1384-1410 . In: Przegląd historyczny. Volume 9, 1909. pp. 12-28, 121-132.
  25. This measure was justified with "insulting behavior" towards the Grand Duke after his capture; in: S. Turnbull: Disaster of the Teutonic Knights. P. 68.
  26. ^ Wolfgang Sonthofen: The German Order. P. 198.
  27. A Bohemian groschen corresponds to 3.7 grams of silver; since one shock is equivalent to 60 pieces, the order had to raise 22.2 tons of silver.
  28. ^ Dieter Zimmerling: The German order of knights. P. 260.
  29. ^ Wolfgang Sonthofen: The German Order. P. 215.
  30. : On 16 September ... the Polish King made his intentions clear in a letter to the bishop of Pomesania to have a Brigittine cloister and church built on the battlefield at Grünstelde, literally in loco conflictus nostri, quem cum Cruciferis de Prusia habuimus, dicto Grunenvelt (Sven Ekdahl Directory of Sven Ekdahl's scientific publications 1963–2008 ( Memento from May 26, 2009 in the Internet Archive ): The Battle of Tannenberg-Grunwald-Žalgiris (1410) as reflected in Twentieth-Century monuments. Pp. 175ff , In: Victor Mallia-Milanes, Malcolm Barber et al .: The Military Orders Volume 3. History and Heritage. Ashgate Publishing, 2008, ISBN 0-7546-6290-X ISBN 978-0-7546-6290-7 [1] )
  31. a b Christoph Mick: "To the forefathers to glory - to the brothers to encouragement". Variations on the theme of Grunwald / Tannenberg. In: zeitenblicke 3 (2004), No. 1 (PDF; 534 kB)
  32. ^ Feliks Szyszko: The Impact of History on Polish Art in the Twentieth Century. ( Memento from September 26, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  33. Also on the following s. Understanding Matejko's painting The Battle of Grunwald ( Memento from December 8, 2006 in the Internet Archive )
  34. ^ A b Witold Molik: Poland. “Poland is not yet lost.” In: Monika Flacke (Ed.): Myths of Nations. A European panorama. Köhler and Amelang, Munich and Berlin 1998, p. 303.
  35. ^ Adam Krzemiński : The Mythical Battle. In: Die Zeit vom July 1, 2010 ( online ), accessed on July 8, 2010.
  36. ^ Artur Becker: The victory of Tannenberg . Tagesspiegel from June 11, 2010
  37. ^ Adam Krzemiński: The Mythical Battle. In: Die Zeit vom July 1, 2010 ( online ), accessed on July 8, 2010.
  38. ^ Witold Molik: Poland. “Poland is not yet lost.” In: Monika Flacke (Ed.): Myths of Nations. A European panorama. Köhler and Amelang, Munich and Berlin 1998, p. 304 f.
  39. ^ Polish propaganda poster from 1945 ( Memento from June 21, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  40. ^ Matthias Weber (HG): Prussia in East Central Europe , Oldenbourg-Verlag, Koblenz 2003, p. 237.
  41. A. Matałowska: Pod Grunwaldem. In: Polityka No. 30, July 25, 1998.
  42. Annette Langer : Beenhakker heads Ballack. Polish newspaper opens soccer media battle. In: Spiegel-Online, June 4, 2008
  43. ^ Report on the website of the Teutonic Order
  44. ^ Mečislovas Jučas: Žalgirio mūšis. [The Battle of Grunwald], p. 98.
  45. ^ Mečislovas Jučas: Žalgirio mūšis. [The Battle of Grunwald], p. 234.
  46. Wolfgang Wippermann: The Order State as Ideology. The image of the Teutonic Order in German historiography and journalism. Volker Spieß, Berlin 1979, pp. 155-174.
  47. Holger Afflerbach (edit.): Kaiser Wilhelm II as supreme warlord in the First World War. Sources from the military environment of the emperor 1914–1918. Verlag Oldenbourg, Munich 2005, p. 148.
  48. Walter u. Johannes Krüger: The Tannenberg National Monument. An explanation from the builders. Südostpreußisches Verkehrsbüro, Allenstein no year [1928].
  49. Wlodzimierz Borodziej: The Warsaw Uprising 1944. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2004, p. 121.
  50. Description of the flags and also of the war events of 1410/11, around 1448. A conditionally timely representation of the events; the record was not made until 38 years later after oral tradition from a participant in the battle. Despite various heraldic errors in the descriptions of the individual banners (flags) , it is precisely the merit of this work to have passed down a description of the banners used in battle in the form of images up to our time.
  51. ^ Ernst Wichert : Heinrich von Plauen in the Gutenberg-DE project
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on September 14, 2008 in this version .