Livonian Order

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Livonian Order


(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.


Istoriia 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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
As a result of the invasion of the German crusaders in the 13th -14th centuries, the lands of Latgalians (Latgals) were divided between the Livonian Order and the Archbishopric of Riga.
June 23, Midsummer Festival, Livonian Order Castle, Sigulda
The idea that these master builders had connections with the Livonian Order or the Archbishopric of Riga seems the most probable at first glance.
In the 1322 treaty between Lithuania and Livonian Order the region is listed under the name Samaythen.
When Talava was divided in 1224, the area later known as Ergeme Parish was ceded to the Livonian Order (Mugurevics 1999 : 75).
Above us looms a medieval stone fortress, a 13th century Livonian Order Castle.
Estonia was relatively homogeneous in its population and landscape until its conversion to Christianity at the beginning of the 13th century, at which point it was divided into North-Estonia, which belonged to the Danes, and South-Estonia, that belonged to the Livonian Order (branch of the Teutonic Order) and the Bishop of Riga.
The last Master of the Livonian Order, Gotthard Kettler, was now the first hereditary Duke of Courland and Semigallia under the Polish-Lithuanian rule, and the royal governor in Livonia proper in 1562-1566, before he was forced to resign from office on suspicion of attempting to create new alliances and pursue independent policies, and lost his influence.
He produced not only the pamphlet so popular with historians of Ivan IV but also a denunciation of the Livonian Order in verse, composed in Moscow in March 1565.
In Cesis, the one-time headquarters of the Livonian Order, the entire population seemed to be on the streets, walking through the town towards or back from the polling station - many of them smartly dressed as if for an official occasion.
(This is a gross distortion of recent history, when the state of Muscovy was one of four contenders fighting for control of lands held by the Livonian Order and the bishops of Riga, Dorpat and Osel: Ivan IV's forces were driven from the fray by the combined efforts of Swedish and Polish forces, and it was Polish, not Russian-held territory that Sweden eventually captured in the 1620s.
It was, of course, in April 1560 that Prince Magnus of Denmark landed in Livonia and in the summer of the same year that delegations from the Livonian Order and the city of Reval arrived at Stockholm to seek Swedish support against Muscovy.