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(full Latin name, Ordo domus Sanctae Mariae Teutonicorum; in German, Deutscher Orden or Kreuzritterorden), a German Catholic military and religious order that followed a policy of feudal aggression in Eastern Europe from the 13th to the early 15th century.
The Teutonic Order originated in the late 12th century in Palestine during the Crusades; its privileges were confirmed in 1198 by Pope Innocent III. The order had large landholdings in Germany and southern Europe. In 1226 a treaty between the grand master of the order, Hermann von Salza, and the Polish prince Conrad of Mazovia gave the order control of the Kulmerland. The order moved the center of its activities to Eastern Europe and began the conquest of Prussia. In 1237 the Teutonic Order absorbed the remnants of the defeated Order of the Knights of the Sword, which came to be called the Livonian Order and organized a branch of the Teutonic Order in the eastern Baltic region.
The Teutonic Order completed its conquest of Prussia by 1283; it seized Eastern Pomerania and Gdańsk in 1309, Estland (Estonia) in 1346, Žemaitija between 1382 and 1398, the island of Gotland in 1398, and Neumark in 1402. The order formed a large feudal military state in the Baltic region whose possessions, including the Livonian branch, stretched from the Vistula to Narva and cut Poland, Lithuania, and Russia off from the Baltic Sea. The order constructed fortified castles as strongholds in the conquered lands. Part of the local population fled beyond the Neman. Those who remained were mostly killed; the few survivors were forcibly germanized and converted to Catholicism. The lands that the order seized were settled by colonists from various parts of Germany.
The residence of the grand master of the order was established in Marienburg in 1309; in 1466 it was moved to Königsberg. The advantageous geographic position of the order at key points on the southern coast of the Baltic made possible an extensive trade, and many of the order’s cities became members of the Hanseatic League.
The threat posed by the Teutonic Order brought Poland and Lithuania together, and they were supported in their struggle against the order by the Russian and other Slavic peoples. The order’s expansion was halted by a decisive defeat in 1410 in the battle of Grunwald. The Peace of Toruń, which brought an end to the Thirteen Years’ War (1454–66) between Poland and the Teutonic Order, made the order a vassal of Poland and returned Eastern Pomerania to the Poles. In 1525 the order’s grand master, Albert of Brandenburg, reorganized the order’s Baltic holdings as the secular duchy of Prussia, a vassal of Poland (after 1618 a part of Brandenburg-Prussia); thus the Baltic state of the Teutonic Order ceased to exist. The order’s remaining possessions in various parts of Germany were secularized at the beginning of the 19th century, and in 1809 the order was disbanded. It was revived in Austria in 1834 with a small number of members and no significant political role.
REFERENCESBaliazin, V. N. “Rossiia i Tevtonskii Orden.” Voprosy istorii, 1963, no. 6.
Tumler, M. Der Deutsche Orden. ... Vienna, 1955.
Küttler, W. “Charakter und Entwicklungstendenzen des Deutschordensstaates in Preussen.” Zeilschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften, 1971, no. 12.