Livonian Brothers of the Sword

Livonian Brothers of the Sword or Livonian Knights (lĭvōˈnēən) [key], German military and religious order, founded in 1202 by Bishop Albert of Livonia for the purpose of conquest and Christianization in the Baltic lands. The knights were organized similarly to the older Teutonic Knights. Their habit was a white robe with a red cross and sword. They subdued the Livs, Ests, and Letts, whose territories, subsequently known as Livonia and Courland, became the domain of the order. In 1236 the knights were severely defeated by the Lithuanians at Siauliai; as a result they merged (1237) with the Teutonic Order, but they continued to form a separate state. Their defeat (1242) by Alexander Nevsky at Lake Peipus checked their eastward expansion. After the secularization (1525) of the Teutonic Order, they resumed independence. In 1558, Czar Ivan IV of Russia invaded their territories, which were eventually partitioned between Russia, Poland, and Sweden. In 1561 the knights were disbanded; their grand master became the first duke of Courland under Polish suzerainty. However, the knights retained their vast estates in the Baltics.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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