Thursday, September 22, 2011

Today In History: Missionary Work Ain't What It Used To Be.

Nowadays, Christian churches send missionaries off into the wilds to open schools and medical clinics and show the poor benighted savages the love of Christ via the miracles of modern medicine and suchlike.

Back in Medieval days, they used to saddle up in big posses like the Teutonic Knights or the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, and gallop at the heathen Slavs and pagan Balts yelling "Love Jesus or we'll cut your bleedin' heads off!" and then steal everything that wasn't bolted down and rape everything that was. (Apparently the Gospels had fallen out of their Bibles and thus the reversion to more Old Testament tactics.)

On this date in 1236, a bunch of Sword Brothers and their lightly-armed retainers and hangers-on were returning towards their home base from a few weeks of recreational looting, raping and proselytizing across Samogitia (modern Lithuania) when they were brought to bay at a river crossing by a large force of understandably pissed-off Samogitians, who proceeded to hand them a good old-fashioned pagan ass-stomping now known as the Battle of Saule.

Those knights that weren't killed on the spot were sent fleeing. Local tribes, already 'pacified' once, realized that the crusading knights weren't made of undefeatium and got uppity in a torches and pitchforks and hang-the-mayor sort of way. The Brothers of the Sword were finished, with the survivors being absorbed by the Teutonic Knights, and the bloody conquest of the Baltic states was set back by a good dozen years.


Lewis said...

Yeah, almost no one ever remembers the Northern Crusades. We all hear the word "crusade" and our frame of reference immediately becomes Jerusalem. As a side note, also dang few people are aware that Hulagu Khan was a Nestorian Christian, and in terms of Christian asswhippings of Islamic societies, you have to put his siege of Baghdad right up there. Add in putting paid to the Assassins and he was a whole different type of missionary!

staghounds said...

Oh come on, everyone knows that a bunch of random untrained citizens could NEVER defeat a trained, high-tech army!

Tam said...


Pagan Europe, which had earlier brought us such hits as the Furor Teutonicus and the Viking raids, was always a little fuzzy on the whole civilian/military thing.

Woodman said...

The Ewoks did it.

I think it's interesting to note that the crusades seem to have involved a lot of looting, yet quite a few knights were ruined by the costs of going on crusade.

Is it the price structure at the ass end of nowhere when you need grain and bread and all you have are solid gold heathen relics? Or was it the "favorable" loan terms from their fellow knights?

Jeffrey Quick said...

The Northern Crusades are a fascinating chapter of history. The pagans weren't above stealing Christian women to expand their gene pool, or roasting their enemies on grills. The Christians OTOH were often into it for the Benjamins, and also broke up polygamous households without a whole lot of care for the supernumary wives (convent or "nunnery" were the options). And then there were the Lithuanians, playing off the Orthodox and Romans while striving to keep their independence. The game was exposed after they Christianized and allied with Poland, and the Teutonic Knights STILL kept fighting...until Tannenburg.

global village idiot said...

The Northern Crusades, the Crusades to the Holy Land, and the "missionary" expeditions to the New World are why I never had as big a problem with the "WWJD" wristbands, bumper-stickers and t-shirts as I otherwise would have.

I mean, sure it's insipid, but at least it gets Christians reading from the proper side of the book.

Not that the Knights-Who-Say-Amen would have let a little trifle like the Gospels get in the way of what they were inclined to do anyway. Didn't Aesop say "Any excuse serves a tyrant?"


WV: caughte (v) - Ye Haughtee Bande of Brigandes were caughte leavinge Ye Olde Liquor Shoppe.

BobG said...

“The missionaries go forth to Christianize the savages - as if the savages weren't dangerous enough already.”
- Edward Abbey

karrde said...

I suspect that 'military missions' was more our tribe is Christian, and we'll kick your tribes ass until you become subject to us...and convert than it was take the Gospel to the heathens by using the sword.

Because none of the tribes in that part of Europe were betting on unilateral disarmament as a path to prosperity.

And tribal dominance by warfare (with the accompanying religious dominance) has been the Natural Order Of Things from before the time of written history.

Ed Foster said...

Yay Tannenberg! The Lithuanian light cavalry broke through the German lines, scattered, and started looting the baggage train, kind of forgetting who was paying them and why.

Meanwhile, back at the battle, the Poles were surrounded and losing ground quickly. Then the Lithuanians found 80,000 sets of slave shackles.

The Prussians had been "civilised" by the knights in the previous generation, after putting up such a stiff fight that the Germans ended up executing the entire male population. Modern Prussians are half German.

The Lithuanian cousins of the Prussians saw the shackles and knew who they were for. They turned around, and hit the Germans from behind like the hammer of hell.

The second Lithuanian charge did so much damage that the mercenary Tartar horse archers who had been dawdling around on the flank decided to make a difference, and began peppering the ever more tightly packed Germans as they were pushed from the front and behind.

To give the knights their due, many of them could have cut their way out, but chose not to. Quite a few men-at-arms surrendered (and hired on with Jogaila and Vytautas), but the knights fought their way back to the wagon lager and mostly went down slugging.

The comparative few captured were overrun and swarmed under.

A pity the Lithuanian-Polish army didn't have the logistics to finish the job. Things dragged on for another dozen years before the good brothers finally came to the table.

The battle, and the christianization of eastern Europe, brought an end to a thousand years of German slave raiding in the Slavic and Baltic countries. Our word slave comes from Slav.

Untold millions of Slavs were killed, and millions more sold, from England to the harems and bordellos of North Africa and the Arab countries.

The end of the Slavic slave trade meant the rise of the Barbary slavers, who raided the west coast of Europe from Portugal and the British Isles to Norway and Iceland. Up until at least 1700, there were more European slaves in Africa than there were African slaves in Europe and America.

The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Has anyone thought to give a brownie point or two to the Europeans who invented the industrial age, and made slavery unneeded for the first time in human history?

Anonymous said...

And let's not leave all the "blame" on the Germans, please, the Danes, & Swedes ( and miscellaneous hangers on from the rest of Europe) were enthusiastically involved both as a secular powers and with a serious religious component.

Heck, the Danes under Valdemar (Danished version of Vladimir) and his brother the Bishop of Copenhagen took out a major Slav power based on a religious site at Arkona ( now Ruegen/Rugen, in the now North Eastern German coast) in the 1200's IIRC.

Charlemagne's greatest marcher campaigns (that lasted DECADES) were on the north eastern front against various Pagan's both Germanic and Slavic (not there were huge cultural difference, frankly). They fought hard, long and stubbornly.

So it took close to millennium (from about 500 to the final denouement in 1500 or so), of campaigning to get a hold the northern Pagans. Regrettably the pagan side of this war is not as well documented as we'd like.

And it is the only successful crusade where ground was actually gained (as opposed to recovered) from the Heathen or Muslims for any period of time.

Mattexian said...

Catholics were plenty willing to put the sword to their "fellow Christians," the proto-Protestants, the followers of Jan Hus in Bohemia and Moravia (modern-day Czech Republic) in the early 1400s (preceding Martin Luther by a century). The Hussite Wars should count as another of the Crusades, when the Pope was sending armies to squash the theological rebellion of heretics; even Joan of Arc was willing to go, until that nasty incident with the English and a fire delayed her.

Joe in PNG said...

I think that when it comes to the Crusaders, they were doing things for the benefit of God in about the same way as the Al Sharpton operates for the benefit of the average African-American man... said...

Just a minor point, but back in the Medieval days, no one except the monkish types and their masters had Bibles, and there's no knowing what exactly they told the Knights was in the book, and what they refrained from disclosing.

Not to excuse any of their actions, of course, but I have a feeling the guys doing the bossing around tended to interpret the Ancient Writings in a manner suiting their ulterior motives.

Which is why they got so darn mad when the uppity printing press and translation guys started making Bibles easy to read and accessible to the layperson. Oh boy did heads roll when the priests found out The Good Book said crap like "Turn the other cheek" and "Love your neighbor!!!"

Unknown said...

Wow. So do you write history textbooks? you should.

Lewis said...

What Suz said.

We've got this tendency these days to look back on "our people" (or in the case of most Americans, on "our peoples") and assume that they were always on the side of truth, right, and justice. Because I know that's the popular version of history, I know a lot of people like to believe that . . . .

There may have been nice tribes in the past. There may have been tribes that turned the other cheek, that really tried to walk a mile in the other guys' shoes. Those tribes? We don't know what they called themselves, because they're lost to the pages of history. Who now remembers the Amalekites?

Mostly in history concepts like justice and right depend mightily upon which side you're on.

Wayne said...

Don't forget the "Battle of Saule" song by the renowned band Skyforger!

Justthisguy said...

This is kind of funny, as the church I attend is part of the Anglican Mission in the Americas, a group run out of the Anglican Province of Rwanda to bring the gospel to the white heathens.

A fact not known widely is that most of the Anglicans/Episcopalians in the world are not White. Some are quite dark-complexioned, indeed.

Ed Foster said...

Mattexian, the Catholics, including Roman, Episcopalian, Orthodox, and Lutheran (same faith, different leaders) were squabbling among themselves to figure out whether there would be a united Catholic church, or a return to the pre-crusades arrangement, where the church was controlled by the king and aristocracy of the respective countries, with the Pope as a figurehead.

The French decided to co-opt control of the church by force, since they were the center of the world anyway (just ask them), and controlling the church made administration of their world view easier. The plague only finished what the schism started.

The fundamentalists who sprang up after the schism and the plague's near extinction of the common church (the village friar was right out there in the thick of it, rather than in a cloister or abbey) were absolute monsters, no exceptions.

Catholic armies (again, no difference between Roman, Lutheran, etc), or rather the nobles who'd hired them, wanted to restore the status quo, not destroy everything and start over. Rape and theft to keep the boys amused (or paid), but no more burning or destruction of property than necessary. Property said nobles considered theirs.

The fundamentalists, driven by both the horrors of the plague, the famine it caused, and the doubt engendered by the schism, followed any messianic loon who felt like screaming "I know the way".

The printing press had very little to do with it, as most rural fundamentalists outside Switzerland couldn't read. The printing press did have a tremendous effect in the cities and larger towns, virtually all of which were Lutheran or Roman Catholic.

It was Europe's first class war, with raging, envious luddite peasants out to destroy everything in an effort to bring on the end of days, purify the world, and speed the second coming.

There is an old German song from the period, very popular among the Hussites, that has the line "See the red cock crow upon the roof, listen to his music". Meaning "See the large building, filled with Romans, Lutherans, Orthodox (choose one) on fire, and listen to the screams".

Ed Foster said...

Old blind Jan Huss was one brilliant dude, if somewhat demented. Wild technology, reminicent of all the last ditch things the Germans were trying at the end of World War Two.
But none of it worked, because the national armies took time off from battering each other to eradicate the total nihilism of militant fundamentalism.
Virtually the only European fundamentalists who survived were the ones who laid down their arms and swore to total pacifism, giving us modern day Moravians, Amish, Mennonites, many Baptist groups, and the odd Huguenot. And that was only allowed due to the increased value of workers in an almost depopulated Europe.
Their neighbor's mistrust of even the most pacifistic fundamentalists lead to the 18th and 19th century diaspora that ended up in North America.
Back in Europe, the depredations of the Hussites and Huguenots scared Martin Luther so much that, also encouraged by the success of the Reformation in rebuilding the common church, he was working dilligently until his death to reunite the various Catholic churches into a modified, less authoritarian version of what had existed before.
It wasn't to be. Since Charlemagne had first settled Slavs in Germany and equipped them with the best technology in order to keep the Germans off his back (look up Wends), the French had done everything in their power to keep the more numerous Germans politically divided and weak.
The "Religious Wars" became totally politicised, with a Swedish and Northern German Lutheran army supported financially by Cardinal Richeleau in Paris against Catholic Austria and Poland.
He gave them just enough money to keep the killing going, but not enough to win, resulting in a devastated Germany and western Poland, the rise of Russia, and, pretty directly, everything that has happened since at least 1939, more likely 1914.
Personally, I think a little bit of religion goes a long way, and none at all goes even farther, but I must admit that the rise of the middle class and the essentially positive bourgeois values common to the west wouldn't have happened without all that misery.
Medievalism had it's value after the collapse of the Roman empire, but it was essentially static. By the time of the 14th century it was due for replacement, but the people of Europe paid a brutal price for the Renaissance