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As the project unfolds, this page will contain any related press material, video clips, web banners and additional publicity.


We have had the privilege of working with Magnus Elander, who has been documenting various aspects of the project - particularly the landscapes, plants and wildlife associated with the ecological transformations of the crusading period. His work will be included in our publications and other outputs such as our planned exhibition. You can find his portfolio here.

Magnus Elander in MasuriaMagnus Elander 2

Re-imagining the Teutonic Order's Reisen

Download a more detailed PDF version of this here.

In February 2014, we collaborated with Łukasz Dutkiewicz and his company of knights to re-create elements of a Reise or 'campaign' across the frontiers of the Teutonic Order's state at the end of the 14th century. With the time and resources at our disposal, we aimed to simulate a small retinue traversing through a variety of environments.


These miniature crusades were organised by the Teutonic Order from 1304-1403, primarily against the territories of pagan Samogitia and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and in fact intensified after the official conversion of Lithuania in 1387. The Reisen presented young, male aristocrats with the opportunity to prove themselves in front of their peers, within an established tradition of crusading as an expression of noble piety. These expeditions were fully embedded in contemporary chivalric culture, accompanied as they were by an elaborate sequence of knightly ceremonies including dubbing, banquets, hunts and lavish entertainment which has somewhat discredited them in the eyes of scholars making comparisons with the crusades in the 13th century. However, as the work of scholars such as Werner Paravicini (Die Preussenreisen des europäischen Adels) has demonstrated, these expeditions were embedded in the religious ideology of the Teutonic Order. Contemporary sources referred to participants as peregrini or ‘pilgrims’ with specifically pious aims, and there is evidence that participants in the Reisen could take crusading vows and obtain indulgences. Many knights did not return from this wild, eastern frontier.

The attacks across the borderlands typically took place in the depths of winter - February and November - when the extensive rivers, lakes and marshes were frozen, and also in the height of summer, in June. They were launched from a range of castles in the Prussian and Livonian borderlands, and accompanied by religious ceremonial associated with the Virgin Mary, the patron and protector of the Teutonic Order.

Our aim was to simulate a winter Reise and to demonstrate the constraints and possiblities of such a landscape, which defined the nature of mobility and warfare in the medieval eastern Baltic (and indeed, into the modern era). The sky was overcast and perfectly suited for photography.

knights getting readyshields

Teutonic Knights

The group consisted of three knights on warhorses, two smaller pack horses with a steward and fifteen foot soliders led by a sergeant. The documented size of these armies varied from a dozen to several thousand. The composition also varied, from a few knights to several hundred, from solely members of the Order to large numbers of guest participants with their own retinues. The mixture of armour types is typical for this time - there was no standardised military uniform and even the use of the black cross as an emblem was not consistent beyond the brethren. The packhorses simulated 'pony-sized' indigenous animals and the larger horses simulated imported warhorses, which by the end of the 14th century had been systematically bred on the Order's stud farms in the eastern Baltic (Ekdahl 1991). We shot in six locations within the vicinity of Lake Śniardwy in Masuria, north-east Poland:

1) A frozen marsh in a gully covered in snow, within a natural birch and pine woodland.

Frozen marshknights and woods

2) A flooded woodland with dying birch trees, the result of damming activity by beavers. There were even freshly felled trees. This type of natural landscape succession results in a 'beaver meadow'.

Beaver meadow

The retinue had to move in single file to navigate through the frozen swamp. Occasionally fallen trees would have to be removed with axes to clear the path for the lead horse.

Beaver meadow and knightsbeaver tree

3) Moving within and out of the fringes of woodland. Again, it was interesting to see how paths had to be chosen and created, particularly to accommodate horse traffic. Some of the larger armies in the borderlands were accompanied by several hundred packhorses, which would have resulted in a convoy several kms in length.

woodland fringes

Knights in woodland

4) Crossing partially snow-covered grasslands. This was much easier for the retinue to move as a group. We were able to get ground-level shots as well as from a hunting hide raised several metres above the ground.


5) At the edges of a frozen lake. It was too slippery for the horses to cross the lake, although the ice could hold their weight as demonstrated by the car driving across the lake on the right. Indeed, if the ice was thick enough it could support the weight of a tank.

frozen lake edgecar on frozen lake

The Teutonic Order would have trained their horses to cross frozen water and provided them with suitably studded horse shoes. In this instance the retinue could move much faster along the edge of the lake.

frozen lake sniardwy frozen lake

6) A snow-covered field at the edge of a woodland: balancing mobility and visibility. This type of landscape was ideally suited to the guerilla warfare conducted by both sides during the 14th century campaigns. We were careful to avoid areas of plantation woodland. Individual woods would have been managed by the Teutonic Order, but plantations were only introduced several centuries later.

Magnus Elander shooting

knights in woodland

knights in woodland edge

The photos will be used primarily in our outreach materials. As far as we know, they will be unique in their content and focus for this time period. In contrast to the more typical battles/battlefields settings, our aim has been to emphasise the physical features and challenges of the frontier landscapes encountered by the Teutonic Order in the medieval eastern Baltic. Hopefully they will bring a number of our research findings to life for a broader, international audience. The working photographs above were provided by Magnus Elander, Małgorzata Karczewska, Maciej Karczewski and Aleks Pluskowski. All official photography will be provided by Magnus Elander, with additional photography by Stefan Rosengren.

TV clips

Arheoloģiskie izrakumi Cēsu pilī; Anda Pastare from LTV covers our excavations at Cēsis castle in late August 2011 (embedded with permission from LTV):

Short articles

Article by Maria Kielmas on our presentation at the Estonian embassy in London, February 2011.

"Environmental Crusaders": article by David Malakoff on first results from Malbork, based on JAS paper.

"Crusader Crisis: How Conquest Transformed Northern Europe": article by Andrew Curry on project for Science (30 November 2012, Vol. 338 no. 6111 pp. 1144-1145). This article has been widely cited, and includes a small detail which needs to be clarified. The early medieval Prussians did not eat dogs. There is no evidence of this to date. There is evidence for horse consumption in ritualistic contexts amongst some of the Prussian tribes. This misunderstanding derives from a humerus fragment belonging to a large canid (dog or wolf) recovered from the early medieval Slavic settlement of Kałdus, which is in the Kulmerland - a region on the Slavic/Prussian frontier temporarily occupied by Prussians in the early thirteenth century. The bone had cut marks on it which can be interpreted as evidence for meat removal, but this cannot be extrapolated as a alimentary phenomenon amongst the Slavs, let alone the Prussians.

"Stanford researchers find clues to the Baltic Crusades in animal bones, horses and the extinct aurochs" : article by Melissa Pandika following an interview with project zooarchaeologist Dr. Krish Seetah, who recently took up a teaching post at Stanford.

"Baltic Crusades Caused Extinctions, End to Pagan Practices": article by LiveScience staff for LiveScience. This one emphasises the misleading dog-eating reference as does:

"Baltic Crusades left behind major ecological, cultural scars": article on Science at NBC News.

"Ecology of Crusading": article by Karen Schousboe for Medieval Histories.

An article on the project in World Archaeology by Lisa-Marie Shillito.

An article on the project's collaboration with the History and Archaeology Museum in Elbląg by the Elbląg Internet Gazette.

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