The Papacy and the Teutonic Order in the later middle ages

Eric Christiansen, The Northern Crusades (second edition, 1997):

[T]he papacy could, at times, get its way in the North-East as in other quarters of Europe – perhaps more so, given the way political and economic power was distributed. The popes could establish special protection over seafarers, pilgrims and merchants and humanize the law of wreck and salvage; could issue embargoes on the arms trade with pagans and Russians; discourage debt-peonage among the Rugians; divert tithe from church-maintenance to the crusade, or books from old libraries to missions. These are a few random examples of Rome’s intervention. In sum, they amount almost to a power of universal supervision, even if power was exercised mainly at the request of local authorities.

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Prussia and Livonia were run on a quite different system [from Finland]. There, government came through a complex administration staffed by a trained ruling class recruited from countries lying some 500 miles away. This administration was only part of the wider organisation known as the Teutonic Order, and its shape was dictated by the monastic command-structure. Its purpose was not merely to govern and fight, but also to carry out a mission on behalf of the Western Church. After 1309, when the headquarters of the Order were established within Prussia, the system still meant that natives, colonists and outsiders from all over Europe were being exploited by one connecting hierarchy of officers committed to a cause rather than to a country. In some ways this turned out to be a very efficient method of government. 

At the top, it ensured continuity and dedication. Neither Prussia nor Livonia was plagued with the recurring crises of medieval government, in the shape of disputed successions, minorities, regencies, and feckless or useless rulers.

Published by

Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

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