Battle on the Ice

Battle on the Ice
Part of the Northern Crusades
Facial Chronicle - b.06, page 085 - Battle of the Ice.jpg
Depiction of the battle in the late 16th century illuminated manuscript Life of Alexander Nevsky
DateApril 5, 1242
Location
Result

Novgorodian victory

  • Teutonic order dropped all territorial claims over Russian lands
Belligerents
Commanders and leaders
Tartu coat of arms.svg Hermann of Dorpat
Strength
5,000[1]2,600[2]
Casualties and losses
No exact figures

Livonian Rhymed Chronicle:
20 knights killed
6 knights captured

Novgorod First Chronicle:

400 Germans killed
50 Germans imprisoned
"Countless" Estonians killed[3]

The Battle on the Ice (Russian: Ледовое побоище, Ledovoye poboishche; German: Schlacht auf dem Eise; Estonian: Jäälahing; German: Schlacht auf dem Peipussee) was fought between the Republic of Novgorod led by prince Alexander Nevsky and the forces of Livonian Order and Bishopric of Dorpat led by bishop Hermann of Dorpat on April 5, 1242, at Lake Peipus. The battle is notable for having been fought largely on the frozen lake, and this gave the battle its name.

The battle was a significant defeat sustained by the crusaders during the Northern Crusades, which were directed against pagans and Eastern Orthodox Christians rather than Muslims in the Holy Land. The Crusaders' defeat in the battle marked the end of their campaigns against the Orthodox Novgorod Republic and other Slavic territories for the next century.

The event was glorified in Sergei Eisenstein's historical drama film Alexander Nevsky, released in 1938, which created a popular image of the battle often mistaken for the real events. Sergei Prokofiev turned his score for the film into a concert cantata of the same title, with "The Battle on the Ice" being its longest movement.

Background

In 1221, Pope Honorius III was again worried about the situation in the Finnish-Novgorodian Wars after receiving alarming information from the Archbishop of Uppsala. He authorized the Bishop of Finland to establish a trade embargo against the "barbarians" that threatened the Christianity in Finland.[4] The nationality of the "barbarians", presumably a citation from Archbishop's earlier letter, remains unknown, and was not necessarily known even by the Pope. However, as the trade embargo was widened eight years later, it was specifically said to be against the Russians.[5] Based on Papal letters from 1229,[6] the Bishop of Finland requested, the Pope enforce a trade embargo against Novgorodians on the Baltic Sea, at least in Visby, Riga and Lübeck. A few years later, the Pope also requested the Livonian Brothers of the Sword send troops to protect Finland. Whether any knights ever arrived remains unknown.[7]

Hoping to exploit Novgorod's weakness in the wake of the Mongol and Swedish invasions, the Teutonic Knights attacked the neighboring Novgorod Republic and occupied Pskov, Izborsk, and Koporye in autumn 1240. When they approached Novgorod itself, the local citizens recalled to the city 20-year-old Prince Alexander Nevsky, whom they had banished to Pereslavl earlier that year. During the campaign of 1241, Alexander managed to retake Pskov and Koporye from the crusaders.

Medieval Livonia

In the spring of 1242, the Teutonic Knights defeated a detachment of Novgorodians about 20 km south of the fortress of Dorpat (Tartu). Led by Prince-Bishop Hermann of Dorpat, the knights and their auxiliary troops of local Ugaunian Estonians then met with Alexander's forces by the narrow strait (Lake Lämmijärv or Teploe) that connects the north and south parts of Lake Peipus (Lake Peipus proper with Lake Pskovskoye).