Battle of Wesenberg (1268)
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|Battle of Rakvere|
Map showing the location of the Battle of Rakvere in the context of the 13th century Livonia.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Daumantas of Pskov
Dmitry of Pereslavl
|Alexander of Dorpat†
Otto von Lutterberg
|16,000 — 30,000 troops||25,000-30,000 troops|
|Casualties and losses|
|5,000 troops||12,000 troops|
The Battle of Wesenberg, Rakvere or Rakovor was a battle fought on February 18, 1268, between the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Knights and a coalition of Russian princes. Medieval accounts of the battle vary, with both sides claiming victory, such that the other was unable to mount further attacks. The most likely conclusion is that the battle was a tactical draw, with both sides withdrawing, badly bloodied, to defend their own lands.
The two armies clashed within 7.5 kilometers (roughly 4.5 miles) from the Livonian town of Wesenberg (Rakvere, Rakovor). Russian forces, numbering up to 30,000 troops, were led by Dmitry of Pereslavl (representing the Novgorod Republic) together with his future son-in-law, Daumantas of Pskov (representing the Pskov Republic).
Apart from the knights, the Livonian army included Danish forces (right flank) and local Estonian militia (left flank). It is unclear who the overall commander of the crusading army was, as some sources claim that Livonian Ordensmeister Otto von Lutterberg was not present, while others claim he was. Bishop Alexander of Dorpat was likely one of the army's leaders, however.
The Livonian forces deployed in their customary deep "boar's head" wedge of heavily armoured knights, called by the Russians the "great iron pig." These deep wedges had considerable penetrative power, but were unmaneuverable and vulnerable to flank attack due to the resulting narrow frontage of the army, facts which led to the ultimate defeat of the Knights at the Battle of Lake Peipus. As a result, the Livonians attempted to remedy this situation at Rakvere by splitting their knightly assault force into two formations, deploying one wedge in the open and a second in ambush, so that when the first wedge was attacked on all sides by the Russians the second wedge would burst from ambush and in turn encircle the enemy.
The tactic worked well at first, as the wedge of Livonian knights smashed the Novgorod and Pskov forces facing them, but then the second wedge, seeing the Russians in retreat, apparently assumed the battle was won and emerged from their ambush position to loot the Russian baggage. This abandonment of the battle plan led to the first wedge being encircled.
The fighting to reduce the first wedge was apparently terrific. "Neither our fathers nor grandfathers have witnessed such a terrible battle", reports the Novgorodian First Chronicle. At last the Novgorodian militia prevailed, although its leader, the posadnik Mikhailo Fyodorovich, was killed in action.
The Russian princes pursued the knights up to Rakvere. Prince Daumantas of Pskov, whose bravery was recognized even in the Livonian chronicles of the battle, pursued the defeated knights all the way to the coast of the Baltic Sea, and took substantial booty before returning to the Russian lines. Upon his return to his camp, Dmitry of Pereslavl discovered that it had been looted by another regiment of the knights. He decided to wait for the morning. Three days passed and no new attack ensued on the part of the knights. The Russian leaders claimed victory and returned to Novgorod in triumph.
The most proximate Livonian source for the battle, the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, tells a very different story, however. According to the anonymous author, Ordenmeister Otto von Lutterberg was away, campaigning elsewhere, when the Russians invaded Estonia. As a result, only a small number of brothers of the Livonian Order were present with the local troops, which included the forces of Bishop Alexander of Dorpat. In this account, the charge of the Livonian force drove the Russians back across the field of battle, and, despite the death of Bishop Alexander, and a heroic final defense mounted by Prince Dmitry, utterly defeated them. The Livonian force then laid siege to Pskov, but were defeated when a relief army arrived there from Novgorod, whereupon they returned home.
- С.М. Соловьев. История России с древнейших времен. Том 3, глава 3
- William L. Urban, The Teutonic Knights: A Military History (London: Greenhill, 2003), 103-105.
- According to the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, Otto von Lutterberg was not present at the battle
- Военный календарь России/А.Окороков.- М.:Яуза; Эксмо,2009 - 768с. -(Военная энциклопедия)
- СТАРШАЯ ЛИВОНСКАЯ РИФМОВАННАЯ ХРОНИКА
- William L. Urban, The Teutonic Knights: A Military History (London: Greenhill, 2003), 103.
- A.N. Nasonov, Novgorodskaia Pervaia Letopis. starshego i mladshego izvodov (Leningrad and Moscow: AN SSSR 1950), 86,316.
- Jerry C. Smith and William L. Urban, trans, The Livonian Rhymed Chronicle (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977), 93-95.
- Nicolle, David. Medieval Russian Armies 1250 - 1450. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002.
- Selart, Anti. Livonia, Rus’ and the Baltic Crusades in the Thirteenth Century. Leiden: Brill, 2015.
- Savignac, David (trans), The Pskov 3rd Chronicle, entry under the year 1268, accessible at https://sites.google.com/site/pskovrelease3/