Book Review: The Scandinavian Baltic Crusades: 1100-1500

The Scandinavian Baltic Crusades: 1100-1500, by D Lindholm & D Nicholle, Illustrated by McBride

Even among those who know the crusades, the Baltic crusades are not particularly well-known except for those who are historians or students of history who are particularly interested in the history of Eastern Europe. This is a book that will at least provide a presumably young reader with an introductory history of some of these interesting historical matters, namely the way that German and Scandinavian armies found a great deal of success in pushing the borders of Christendom east and eventually converting and conquering the area between Germany, Poland, and Russia. As might be expected from someone familiar with this series, a lot of attention is focused on equipment and a lot of attention is focused on pictures, so that the reader of this book will have at least some idea of the material poverty of the Swedes compared to the Germans, the way that Scandinavians tried to mimic the wealthier and better equipped German knights and how it was that the Eastern European pagan nations were generally far worse equipped than the Christian nations, and even how it was that Sweden used its empire to gain troops from Finns, for example, which adds to the level of interest that exists in this book.

This book is a short one at less than 50 pages. It begins with an introduction that seeks to define a crusade as well as the participants of the Baltic crusades and the Baltic at the time of the crusades. This is followed by a chronology of the Baltic Crusades as well as the armies that fought in the region. After that considerable attention is paid to the equipment of the Scandinavian crusaders, including complaints about the difficulties of sources as well as the equipment in three different periods, from 1100-1300, 1300-1400, and 1400-1500. This is followed by a discussion of the military equipment of the native Baltic Europeans and the people of Novgorod from 1100-1300 and then from 1300-1500. This is followed by a discussion of tactics and strategy, including the use of strongpoints and the frequency of raiding, the importance of winter warfare given the geography of the region, the use of boats and ships to deal with the shallow Baltic, which was an important supply and communications line between the area and the home regions of the crusaders, as well as the use of fortifications and the importance of siege warfare as a result. The book closes with a discussion of the aftermath of the Crusades as well as suggestions for further reading, commentaries on the various plates that appear in the book, and an index.

If one is going to know about the Crusades, the Baltic Crusades are certainly among the more obscure aspects of the Crusades to be familiar with. I can say, though, that I have at least seen some of the sites of the Baltic Crusades personally, because these military efforts helped provide the odd German feeling that one still gets when visiting Estonia and also provided for the development of cities like Talinn and Kurasaare, both of which remain pleasant places to visit which are still shaped by the experience of these crusades, even if the land is under the rule of native Estonians. It would be nice if these books offered deeper insight into the crusades including the course of the various efforts, but the authors are not really interested in narrative history and are far more interested in providing context for pretty pictures of equipment and soldiers in various poses, including dealing with local prisoners and running away from the Russians, whose archers are in full evidence. The author even talks about some of the advantages that local powers had in terms of archery even if the Western Europeans brought superior equipment to bear in most cases.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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