(in Late Latin, Domus Sancte Marie Theutonicorum in Lyvonia; in German, Dutscher Orden to Lyffland), a Catholic and military-political organization of knights of the Teutonic Order, which created a feudal state in the eastern Baltic region that lasted from the 13th through 16th centuries.
The Livonian Order was formed in 1237 after the defeat of the Order of Knights of the Sword at the battle of Saule the preceding year. The territory under control of the order made up nearly two-thirds of the Latvian and Estonian lands seized by the German knights in the eastern Baltic. The order was headed by a master elected for life who had his residence either in Riga or in Wenden (Cesis). Komture (commanders) and Vögte (wardens) were in charge of the fortified castles; they reported to the annual assemblies (capitula) of the highest officials of the order. At the end of the 14th century a council of five or six of the highest functionaries was formed under the master. This council determined the entire policy of the order. Those in the order with full membership rights, some 400–500 men up to the 16th century and 120–150 in the mid-16th century, were called brothers (fratres). Besides brothers, there were also priests and half-brothers (artisans and professionals) in the order. The armed forces of the order numbered about 4,000 men at the start of the 15th century. These were brothers (with their armed servants) and vassals. From the late 14th century hired mercenaries were also employed.
During the 13th century the Livonian Order was the chief military force of the German feudal lords and the Catholic Church in the eastern Baltic. By order of the pope and Livonian bishops, it subjected the Latvian and Estonian peoples to the authority of the German feudal lords. The defeat at the Battle on the Ice of 1242 halted the movement of the Livonian Order to the east. At the end of the 13th century the order began to struggle against the Riga archbishops for political hegemony in the eastern Baltic. After winning this conflict in 1330, the Livonian Order became the feudal seigneur of Riga. However, the destruction of the Teutonic Order at the battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) in 1410 undermined its political position. According to the terms of the Kirchholm (Salaspils) Treaty of 1452, Riga was placed under the authority of two feudal seigneurs, the archbishop and the Livonian Order, despite the opposition of the city and continuing conflict between the seigneurs. This arrangement continued until the 1560’s.
During the 14th and first half of the 15th centuries the main question of foreign policy for the order was its relations with Lithuania; in the second half of the 15th century it was concerned with its relations with the Russian state. The Livonian Order was weakened from the 1520’s on by severe class and national contradictions between the German feudal lords and the Estonian peasants. The Reformation in the eastern Baltic also contributed to this weakening. During the Livonian War of 1558–83 the order disintegrated (1561). In its place there appeared the Duchy of Courland; the last master of the Livonian Order, Gothards Ketlers, converted to Lutheranism and became the first duke of the duchy. The remaining lands were divided between Sweden, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and Denmark. The Livonian Order was finally abolished on Mar. 5, 1562.
REFERENCESIstoriia Latviiskoi SSR, vol. 1. Riga, 1952. Pages 100–69.
Istoriia Estonskoi SSR, vol. 1. Tallinn, 1961. Pages 177–348.
Dragendorff, E. Über die Beamten des Deutschen Ordens in Livland während des 13. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 1894. (Dissertation.)
Donnert, E. Der livländische Ordensritterstaat und Russland. Berlin, 1963.
Zeids, T. Feodalisms Livonija. Riga, 1951.
T. J. ZEIDS