The Battle of Saule 1236

Continuing on from my last post, let me tell you some more about the historical events mentioned on Skyforger‘s album KAUJA PIE SAULES, or translated to English “The Battle of Saule” (where Saule is a place near the Latvian / Lithuanian border).

KAUJA PIE SAULES – both the album and its title song – are dedicated to the battle between European Crusaders and Lithuanian / Semigallian pagan tribes. It was one of greatest battles won by Baltic pagan tribes and to commemorate the battle, in 2000 Lithuanian and Latvian parliaments declared September 22 as the Day of Baltic Unity.

So for those of you who are interested what’s behind that song I made this article. Though I must confess that I shamelessly took majority from Wikipedia page (because in short all was already there) and some excerptions from Māris Goldmanis blog. Māris is Latvian Historian and his very informative blog in English can be found here.
And his actual full article about Kauja pie Saules is here.

The Battle of Saule (German: Schlacht von Schaulen; Latvian: Saules kauja; Lithuanian: Saulės mūšis or Šiaulių mūšis) was fought on September 22, 1236 between European Curasders the Livonian Brothers of the Sword (Schwertbrüderorden) and pagan Samogitians (Žemaičai). Between 48 and 60 knights were killed, including the Livonian Master, Volkwin. It was the earliest large-scale defeat suffered by the orders in Baltic lands. The Sword-Brothers, the first Catholic military order established in the Baltic lands, was soundly defeated and its remnants accepted incorporation into the Teutonic Order in 1237. The battle inspired rebellions among the Curonians, Semigallians, Selonians, Oeselians, tribes previously conquered by the Sword-Brothers. Some thirty years’ worth of conquests on the left bank of Daugava was lost.

The Sword-Brothers were established in 1202 in Riga to conquer and convert pagan Baltic tribes to Christianity. By the 1230s under the leadership of Master Volkwin, the Order was coping with strained financial resources, decreasing manpower, and ill reputation. The Order was in conflict with the papacy under Pope Gregory IX and the Holy Roman Emperor, two of its biggest supporters, over Estonia. However, on February 19, 1236, Pope Gregory IX issued a papal bull declaring a crusade against Lithuania. He targeted Samogitia (Žemaitia), planning to conquer the coast of the Baltic Sea and connect with the Teutonic Knights in Prussia. The Sword-Brothers wanted to keep expanding along the Daugava River and was somewhat reluctant to march against Samogitia. In fall of 1236 a party of crusaders arrived from Holstein; it demanded to be led into a battle. Volkwin gathered a large war party, which included troops from Pskov Republic, Livonians, Latgallians, Estonians.

The knights marched southward into Samogitia, raiding and plundering local settlements. The locals had only a few days to gather troops for defense. On the knights’ northward return, however, they encountered a determined group of Samogitians at a river crossing. Unwilling to risk losing their horses in the swampland, the Holsteiners refused to fight on foot, forcing the knights to camp for the night. The next morning, on the day of Saint Maurice, the main pagan forces, likely led by Duke Vykintas, arrived at the camp. The Lithuanian light cavalry flung javelins at short range, which were highly effective against the unwieldy Livonian heavy cavalry. The swampy terrain was advantageous for lightly armed pagans. The slaughter of the Christian troops, including Volkwin, sowed the seeds of confusion in the Livonian ranks. The lightly armed forces under the command of the Brothers soon fled from the battle. Those survivors, who tried to flee to Riga, were killed by the Semigallians and only few made home.

The Battle of Saule was an epic event, which halted the Crusaders advance for decades. Semigallians were in peace for some years, but Lithuanians showed that they were too strong to be easily taken. The Order of Brotherhood of Sword ceased to exist because of the enormous causalities.
It was enough to halt advance on Lithuania, but not enough to stop advance against Curonians and Semigallians. Surviving Brothers were incorporated into the Order of Teutonic Knights in the following year, and from that point on they became known as the Livonian Order.

6 thoughts on “The Battle of Saule 1236

  1. Nice blog and very interesting researches (and resources!). I’m a student in medieval history from the far away Italy. I’m much interested in the baltic middle ages, something sadly not very well known and studied in western Europe (excluding Germany).

    Talking about history and your music, I’d like to know more about your songs in Zobena Dziesma, which should, if I have understood it well, traditional latvian and lithuanina (O Kai Saulute) folk songs. Do you know when they were first written and how old can they be?

    Zobena Dziesma is one my favourite albums ever – not joking -, no other folk or pseudo/metal folk album can stand its level. Keep it up!

    • Hi, Fritz!
      Most of these folk songs were collected and written down only in the end of 19th century by Latvian and Lithuanian folk enthusiasts. Though some of them are very old as they tell about pagan Gods and deities and refer to times of early middle age, when our ancestors still fought crusader invaders.
      Folk songs and singing was big part of our national culture from ancient times and were passed from generation to generation from mouth to mouth. They were performed by simple people almost everywhere: working on field, festivities, rituals, fishing, doing domestic works, weddings and so on. Such huge is also repertoire – we can find almost every aspect of human’s life in these songs! They are also great treasure for historians, as they can find out about how people lived and what they thought in centuries ago just from such songs.
      I hope to write special article some day about “”Dainas””, as we call our folk songs, to share more light on this topic.

  2. Alright, thank you very much for this nice informatiosn. The war against paganism is today looking like this

    [img src=””]
    where the illegal wood mafia consisting of christian and jewish latvians is cutting in areas 50% of the forest and kills babytrees in massive amounts in order to shredder them or leaves them for decomposition, create monocultures, changes forests into fields on gigantic areas. This is happening all over Latvia, for the beloved Eu, but mostly on the border to the catholic Lithuania, which has less than 30% forests.

    This bunch has the size 3m x 10m x 10m and it consists of babytrees from an area of 40 ha which are left here for decomposition.

    [img src=””]

    [img src=””]

  3. Hi, Peter!
    I have a website dedicated to rock/metal music and its cultural approach. I find your work very interesting as well as you make a great music. Could you say the name of the painting for this cover and its author? All the information I can get is that’s in the Latvian War Museum.
    Thanks form Spain!

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