Myths about the Battle of the Ice

Myths about the Battle of the Ice

The source material http://tass.ru/spec/ledovoe
TASS is grateful for the help in preparing the material for the historian and specialist in Ancient Russia Igor Nikolaevich Danilevsky and the medieval military historian Klim Alexandrovich Zhukov.

For many, the battle, according to the annals of April 5, 1242, is not much different from the shots from the Sergei Eisenstein film Alexander Nevsky. Russia defeated the cursed Livonians and drowned them in the lake.

But was it really?

Myth about what we know about the Ice Battlee.

The Battle on the Ice really became one of the most resonant events of the XIII century, reflected not only in the “native”, but also in the Western chronicles.

And at first glance it seems that we have enough documents to thoroughly study all the "components" of the battle.

But upon closer examination it turns out that the popularity of the historical plot is not at all a guarantee of its comprehensive study.

Thus, the most detailed (and most cited) description of the battle, recorded “hot on the heels,” is contained in the Novgorod First Chronicle. And this description has a little more than 100 words.The remaining references are even more concise.

Moreover, sometimes they include mutually exclusive information. For example, in the most authoritative Western source - the Elder Livonian rhymed chronicle - there is not a word that the battle took place on the lake.

The life of Alexander Nevsky can be considered a kind of "synthesis" of the early chronicles of the collision, but, according to experts, they are literary works and therefore can be used as a source only with "great limitations."

As for the historical works of the 19th century, it is believed that they did not bring anything fundamentally new to the study of the Ice Slaughter, mainly retelling what was already stated in the annals.

The beginning of the 20th century is characterized by an ideological rethinking of the battle, when the symbolic significance of the victory over "German knightly aggression" was highlighted. According to the historian Igor Danilevsky, before the release of the film by Sergei Eisenstein “Alexander Nevsky,” the study of the Ice Slaughter was not even included in university lecture courses.

The myth of united Russia
In the minds of many, the Battle on the Ice is the victory of the combined Russian troops over the forces of the German Crusaders.Such a "generalizing" idea of ​​the battle was formed in the 20th century, in the realities of the Great Patriotic War, when Germany was the main rival of the USSR.

However, 775 years ago, the Battle on the Ice was more “local” than a national conflict. In the XIII century, Russia experienced a period of feudal fragmentation and consisted of about 20 independent principalities. Moreover, the policy of cities formally related to one territory could differ significantly.

So, de jure, Pskov and Novgorod were located in the Novgorod land, one of the largest territorial units of Russia of that time. In fact, each of these cities was “autonomy”, with its own political and economic interests. This also included relations with our closest neighbors in the Eastern Baltic.

One of these neighbors was the Catholic Order of the Sword-bearers, after being defeated at the Battle of Saul (Šiauliai) in 1236 and attached to the Teutonic Order as the Livonian landmeister. The latter became part of the so-called Livonian Confederation, which, in addition to the Order, included five Baltic bishops.

Indeed, Novgorod and Pskov are independent lands, which, moreover, are hostile to each other: Pskov all the time was trying to get rid of the influence of Novgorod. Igor Danilevsky, an expert on the history of ancient Russia, is out of the question of the unity of the Russian lands in the 13th century.

As historian Igor Danilevsky notes, the main cause of territorial conflicts between Novgorod and the Order was the land of the Estonians who lived on the western shore of Lake Peipsi (the medieval population of present-day Estonia, in the majority of Russian-language chronicles, was called "chud"). In this campaign, organized by the Novgorod, almost did not affect the interests of other lands. The exception was the "frontier" Pskov, constantly subjected to retaliatory raids by the Livonians.

According to historian Alexei Valerov, the need to simultaneously resist both the forces of the Order and Novgorod’s regular attempts to encroach on the independence of the city could force Pskov to open the gates to Livonians in 1240. In addition, the city was seriously weakened after the defeat at Izborsk and, presumably, was not capable of long-term resistance to the crusaders.

Recognizing the power of the Germans, Pskov hoped to defend himself from the claims of Novgorod. Nevertheless, the forced nature of the surrender of Pskov is beyond doubt — Alexey Valerov, a historian

At the same time, as the Livonian rhymed chronicle reports, in 1242 there was not a full-fledged "German army" in the city, but only two knights-vogts (presumably accompanied by small detachments), who, according to Valerov, performed judicial functions on the lands under their control and monitored the activities of the "local Pskov administration."

Further, as we know from the chronicles, the Novgorod prince Alexander Yaroslavich together with his younger brother Andrei Yaroslavich (sent by their father, Vladimir Prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich) “expelled” the Germans from Pskov, after which they continued their march, having gone “for a chud” (t. e. in the land of the Livonian landmasters).

Where they were met by the combined forces of the Order and the Dorpat bishop.

The Scale Myth of Battle
Thanks to the Novgorod chronicle, we know that April 5, 1242 was a Saturday. Everything else is not so clear.

Difficulties begin already when trying to determine the number of participants in the battle.The only figures that we have tell us about the losses in the ranks of the Germans. Thus, the Novgorod first chronicle reports about 400 dead and 50 prisoners, the Livonian Rhyming Chronicle - that "twenty brothers remained dead and six were captured."

Researchers believe that these data are not as contradictory as it seems at first glance.

We believe that when making a critical assessment of the number of knights killed during the Ice Battle of the Knights, reported in the Rhymed Chronicle, it should be borne in mind that the chronicler does not speak about the losses of the crusading army in general, but only about the number of "knights brothers" killed, i.e. about knights - full members of the order - from the book "Written sources about the Ice Battle" (Runners Yu.K., Kleinenberg I.E., Shaskolsky I.P.)

Historians Igor Danilevsky and Klim Zhukov agree that several hundred people participated in the battle.

So, on the part of the Germans, there are 35–40 knights brothers, about 160 bollards (an average of four servants per knight) and mercenaries ests (“a chud without a number”) who could “expand” the squadron by another 100–200 warriors . At the same time, by the standards of the XIII century, such an army was considered to be a fairly serious force (presumably, during the heyday, the maximum number of the former Order of the Sword-bearers in principle did not exceed 100–120 knights).The author of the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle also complained that there were almost 60 times more Russians, which, according to Danilevsky, although an exaggeration, nevertheless suggests that the army of Alexander was significantly superior to the strength of the Crusaders.

Thus, the maximum number of the Novgorod city regiment, Alexander's princely retinue, Suzdal’s detachment of his brother Andrey, and those who joined the Pskov campaign, hardly exceeded 800 people.


From the chronicle posts, we also know that the German detachment was lined up with a "pig."

According to Klima Zhukov, the discussion is most likely not about the "trapezoidal" pig, which we used to see on the diagrams in textbooks, but about the "rectangular" (since the first description of the "trapezium" in written sources appeared only in the XV century). Also, according to historians, the estimated number of Livonian troops gives reason to talk about the traditional construction of the “banner of the banners”: 35 knights that make up the banner of the banners, plus their troops (cumulative to 400 people).

As for the tactics of the Russian army, the Rhymed Chronicle mentions only that "the Russians had many shooters" (who apparently composed the first system), and that "the army of the brothers was surrounded."

We know nothing more about this.

All thoughts about how Alexander and Andrei built their squad, - speculation and fiction, coming from the "common sense" writing

- Igor Danilevsky, an expert on the history of ancient Russia

The myth that the Livonian warrior is heavier than the Novgorod
There is also a stereotype, according to which the fighting vestments of Russian soldiers were many times easier than Livonian.

According to historians, if the difference in weight was, it is extremely small.

After all, from the one and the other side, extremely heavily armed horsemen participated in the battle (it is believed that all assumptions about infantrymen are a transfer of the military realities of the next centuries to the realities of the XIII century).

According to the logic, even the weight of a war horse, without taking into account the rider, would be enough to break through the fragile April ice.

So did it make sense in such conditions to bring troops to him?

The myth of the battle on ice and drowned knights

We will immediately disappoint: descriptions of how the German knights fall through the ice are not found in any of the early chronicles.

Moreover, in the Livonian Chronicle there is a rather strange phrase: "On both sides the dead fell on the grass." Some commentators believe that this is an idiom,meaning "fall on the battlefield" (version of the medieval historian Igor Kleinenberg), others - that we are talking about reed thickets that broke through under ice in shallow water where the battle took place (the version of the Soviet military historian Georgiy Karayev displayed on the map) .

As for the chronicle mention of the fact that the Germans were persecuted "on ice", modern researchers agree that this detail of the Ice Battle could "borrow" from the description of the later Rakora battle (1268). According to Igor Danilevsky, reports that the Russian troops were driving the enemy seven miles (“to the Subolichi Shore”) are quite justified for the scale of the seaside battle, but they look strange in the context of the battle on Lake Peipsi, where the distance from coast to coast The battle is no more than 2 km.

Long and Wrong: Myths about the Battle of the Ice
Long and Wrong: Myths about the Battle of the Ice

Speaking of the "Crow Stone" (the geographical landmark mentioned in part of the chronicles), historians emphasize that any map indicating a specific battle site is no more than a version. No one knows where exactly the massacre took place: the sources contain too little information to draw any conclusions.

In particular, Klim Zhukov is based on the fact that during the archaeological expeditions in the Peipsi Lake region, not a single “confirming” burial was found. The researcher links the lack of evidence not with the myth of battle, but with looting: in the XIII century iron was highly valued, and it is unlikely that the weapons and armor of the fallen soldiers could be kept intact to this day.

The myth of the geopolitical significance of the battle
In the view of many, the Battle on the Ice “stands alone” and is almost the only “action-packed” battle of its time. And it really became one of the significant battles of the Middle Ages, "suspended" the conflict between Russia and the Livonian Order for almost 10 years.

Nevertheless, the XIII century is rich in other events.

From the point of view of a clash with the crusaders, the battle with the Swedes on the Neva of 1240 also applies to them, and the already mentioned Rakovorsky battle, in which the combined army of the seven northern Russian principalities, fought against Livonian landmeister and Danish Estland.

The Novgorodian chronicler did not exaggerate at all, describing the Rakovorsky battle of 1268, in which the combined forces of several Russian lands,suffering heavy losses themselves, inflicted a crushing defeat on the Germans and Danes: "There was a terrible carnage, as if they did not see either the father or the dedi"

Also, the XIII century is the time of the Horde invasion.

Despite the fact that the key battles of this epoch (the Battle of Kalka and the capture of Ryazan) did not directly affect the North-West, they significantly influenced the further political structure of medieval Russia and all its components.

Moreover, if we compare the scale of the Teutonic and Horde threats, the difference is calculated in tens of thousands of soldiers. Thus, the maximum number of crusaders who ever participated in the campaigns against Russia rarely exceeded 1000 people, while the estimated maximum number of participants in the Russian campaign on the Horde was up to 40 thousand (version of the historian Klima Zhukov).

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  • Myths about the Battle of the Ice

    Myths about the Battle of the Ice

    Myths about the Battle of the Ice

    Myths about the Battle of the Ice

    Myths about the Battle of the Ice

    Myths about the Battle of the Ice

    Myths about the Battle of the Ice

    Myths about the Battle of the Ice

    Myths about the Battle of the Ice

    Myths about the Battle of the Ice

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