Livonian War of 1558–83

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Livonian War of 1558–83


a war between Russia and the Livonian Order, with Sweden, Poland, and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania also taking part.

The war was fought over the Baltic region and Russian access to the Baltic Sea. Acquisition of the Baltic region would ensure for Russia the establishment of direct contact with European countries through the Baltic Sea. The Russian dvorianstvo. (nobility and gentry) were interested in obtaining new developed lands with the acquisition of Livonia. The Russian merchants were interested in gaining access to the Baltic through Riga, Revel (Tallinn), and Narva.

Russia began the war in January 1558. During the first year of the war Russian troops occupied Narva and Dorpat (Tartu) and approached Revel. However, a truce was concluded in 1559 under the influence of political figures close to A. F. Adashev. The Livonian feudal lords took advantage of the truce to conclude an agreement with the Polish king Sigismund II Augustus in 1559. According to the agreement, the lands of the Livonian Order and the holdings of the Riga archbishop came under the protection of the Polish king. In the same year Denmark took possession of the episcopates of Courland and Ösel-Vikskim. In 1560, Russian troops took Marienburg (Aluksne) and Fellin (Viljandi). The army of the order blocking the path to Fellin was crushed near Ermes (Ergems). Peasant rebellions against the German feudal lords, then breaking out in the country, facilitated the victories of the Russian troops. The Livonian Order collapsed. German feudal lords of northern Estonia acknowledged Swedish rule.

In 1561 the second period of the Livonian War began, in which Russia fought the kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and Sweden. At first, Russian troops were successful in their struggle against the coalition of enemy states; then they suffered defeats. In 1563 the Russians took the fortress of Polotsk, thus opening the road to the capital of Lithuania, Wilno (Vilnius), and to Riga. However, in 1564 they experienced a number of defeats—on January 26 and July 2 on the Ulla River and July 2 near Orsha. In April 1564, Prince A. M. Kurbskii fled to Lithuania. In June 1566, a Lithuanian embassy arrived in Moscow with a proposal for dividing Livonia. However, the Zemskii Sobor of 1566 supported the plan of Ivan IV’s government to continue the struggle in the Baltic region.

The unification of the kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into one state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth through the Lublin Union of 1569, created a complicated situation for Russia. In the north, relations with Sweden were again aggravated. In the south, a considerable portion of the Russian Army was drawn away from the military theater by the march of the Turkish Army on Astrakhan in 1569 and the devastating raid of Devlet-Girei on Moscow in 1571. Nonetheless, on Jan. 1, 1573, Russian troops took the Swedish strong-point in the Baltic, Weissenstein (Paide), by storm. In 1575 they took the fortress of Pernov (Parnu). During the campaign of 1576 the Russians seized a number of points on the Baltic coast. In 1577, Ivan IV undertook a new march on Livonia and laid siege to Revel in January. During the summer the Russian Army, headed by the tsar, took possession of Wenden (Cesis), the former residence of the master of the Livonian Order, as well as a number of other fortresses in eastern Latvia.

However, an international situation unfavorable for Russia and the ruin of the country by the domestic policy of Ivan IV exerted a negative influence on the further course of the Livonian War. Stephen Báthory, who ascended the Polish throne in 1576, went over to the attack in 1579 and occupied Polotsk and Velikie Luki. In 1581, Báthory laid siege to Pskov; in case of success, he intended to march on Novgorod and Moscow. In the same year the Swedes occupied Narva and Korela. The heroic defense of Pskov in 1581–82 by Russian troops and by the whole population of the city brought about an outcome to the war that was more favorable to Russia.

In 1582, a ten-year truce was concluded at Iam-ZapoPskii according to which Polotsk and Livonia were held by the Rzecz Pospolita and the Russian lands seized by the Polish king were returned. In 1583 the truce of Pliussa was concluded with Sweden. This provided for Swedish possession of Narva and of the Russian cities of lam, Kopor’e, and Ivangorod, which the Swedes had seized. In the final analysis the Livonian War ended badly for Russia, and access to the Baltic Sea was not to be ensured until the start of the 18th century (through the Northern War of 1700–21).


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.