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April 5th 1242 Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod defeats Teutonic Knights

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THE BATTLE OF THE ICE

 

The battle was a significant defeat sustained by Roman Catholic crusaders during the Northern Crusades, which were directed against pagans and Eastern Orthodox Christians rather than Muslims in the Holy Land. The crusaders' defeat in the battle marked the end of their campaigns against the Orthodox Novgorod Republic and other Russian territories for the next century.

 

Hoping to exploit the Russians' weakness in the wake of the Mongol and Swedish invasions, the Teutonic Knights attacked the neighboring Novgorod Republic and occupied Pskov, Izborsk, and Koporye in the autumn of 1240. When they approached Novgorod itself, the local citizens recalled to the city 20-year-old Prince Alexander Nevsky, whom they had banished to Pereslavl earlier that year. During the campaign of 1241, Alexander managed to retake Pskov and Koporye from the crusaders. In the spring of 1242, the Teutonic Knights defeated a detachment of Novgorodians about 20 km south of the fortress of Dorpat (Tartu). Led by Prince-Bishop Hermann of Dorpat, the knights and their auxiliary troops of local Ugaunian Estonians then met with Alexander's forces by the narrow strait that connects the northern and southern parts of Lake Peipus (Lake Peipus proper with Lake Pskovskoe) on April 5, 1242. Alexander, intending to fight in a place of his own choosing, retreated in efforts to draw the often over-confident Crusaders to the frozen lake.

 

The crusader forces likely numbered around 4,000. Most of them were probably Estonians (Chudes). The Russian force in contrast numbered around 5,000 soldiers: Alexander and his brother Andrei's bodyguards (druzhina), who numbered around 1,000, plus the militia of Novgorod. According to contemporary Russian chronicles, after hours of hand-to-hand fighting, Alexander ordered the left and right wings of his archers to enter the battle. The knights by this time were exhausted from the constant fighting and struggling with the slippery surface of the frozen lake. The Crusaders started to retreat in disarray deeper onto the ice, and the appearance of the fresh Russian cavalry made them run for their lives. When the knights attempted to rally themselves at the far side of the lake the thin ice started to collapse, under the weight of their heavy armour, and many knights drowned.In 1983, a revisionist view proposed by historian John I. L. Fennell argues that the battle was not as important, nor as large, as has sometimes been portrayed. Fennell claimed that most of the Teutonic Knights were by that time engaged elsewhere in the Baltic. He also states that the apparent low casualties endured by the knights according to their own sources are an indicative of the small magnitude of the encounter.

 

(Snip)

 

The legacy of the battle, and its decisiveness, rests in that it halted the eastward expansion of the Teutonic Order and established a permanent border line of the Narva River and Lake Peipus dividing Eastern Orthodoxy from West Catholicism. The knights' defeat at the hands of Alexander's forces prevented the crusaders from retaking Pskov, the linchpin of their eastern crusade. The Novgorodians succeeded in defending Russian territory, and the German crusaders never mounted another serious challenge eastward. Alexander was canonised as a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church in 1574.

 

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