There is quite a lot written on the Teutonic Order and its military, but I'm having a harder time finding any good English sources on the military of one of its chief foes, Lithuania and the other Baltic tribes.

How was their military structured in this period (1200-1500 AD) and what kind of equipment and fighting styles were used? And is there any good material on this in English?

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    Hi Ulgur and welcome to History SE. It would help people researching this question if you mentioned a few of the sources you have already looked at. – Lars Bosteen Apr 17 '18 at 10:44
  • You will probably have an easier time finding information about the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was, after all, the largest state in Europe. – John Dee Apr 17 '18 at 19:06
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    @LarsBosteen I haven't really found any good sources at all, so all suggestions are welcome. I was hoping Osprey had something on it as it is usually a good starting point, but they dont seem to have anything on the subject. – Ulgur Apr 18 '18 at 11:35
  • @JohnDee Most of the stuff I found after some googling referred to the period right after this, when the Lithuania became a part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. If you have any reading suggestions for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania I'm all ears! – Ulgur Apr 18 '18 at 11:40
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    @KhirgiyMikhail: I think you are misleading there; that is a link which mostly involves the German Order and the Novgorodian Principality. Though the German Order recruited plenty of local people into their infantry, this is a bit of a mislead as the 'pride' of the army was a very Western heavy cavalry. – gktscrk Sep 26 '18 at 8:51


Good material is questionable if you are looking for full-on books, but there are some interesting paragraphs in English if you read some of Stephen Turnbull's Osprey series (Crusader Castles of the Teutonic Knights, 1 and 2).

If you pass by the requirement for this to be in English, then the Livonian Rhymed Chronicles are an option, but I am unsure whether there is a translation into English that is accessible (there definitely is to both Latvian and Estonian) (there seems to be a translation into English from 1977 but I have no idea how easy to access it would be).


For a broad description (based on the above sources)... I think, firstly, the time period you have provided is too broad. I'm going to cut it into two (1200 to 1385 and 1385 to 1500, with the latter having a lot more to read, even in English) though that's by no means a very clever way of separating one from the other.

12th to 14th Centuries

From the 12th century onwards, the local Baltic tribes were in (military) contact with the German peoples. Firstly, this can be said to have boosted the development of military tactics -- especially advanced weaponry such as crossbows and types of fortifications. The masonry fortifications built by the Germans were a new style in the Baltic lands (though this isn't to mean that stone had not been used before -- rather, it is the question of using mortar to link the stonework and to create a stronger platform which was new). This also meant that the Germans/Swedes/Danes brought with them a newer concept of sieges and engineering skills.

The local people did not have knowledge of the crossbow until they managed to imprison some Germans (or German mercenaries -- cannot remember) after a siege who they pressured into teaching them the art of crossbow manufacture and use. This took place in the latter part of the 13th century. The art of the siege equipment had been learned first by the Baltic peoples (first as in before small arms), and from Mr Turnbull it seemed as if the Lithuanian dukes were very keen on developing the art of siegecraft in their lands. This would partially be due to the large number of German castles springing up both to the south and north of the Lithuanian lands.

For fighting styles, raids (and counter-raids) were the most common -- raids for cattle and slaves that is. Conquest of lands does not seem to have been a primary objective while there are records of Lithuanian raids into Central/Northern Livonia well into the 13th century when those lands were owned by the Order. It should also be noted that due to the dense woodland nature of these lands, ambushes were common such as the one at Sauga in 1236 where the Sword Brethern were annihilated while crossing a river (though the full blame for that defeat should more probably lie with the 'conscripted' German crusaders who supposedly did not heed the caution of the brothers).

14th to 16th Centuries

From the time of the Lithuanian-Polish union of kings (late 14th century), the Lithuanian army would have started to take on Polish elements (and vice versa). Looking into the Tannenberg campaign of 1410 would therefore be a very good thing for that time and, in general, to see the sort of tactics the people of Poland/Lithuania had evolved to successfully fight against a heavily armoured cavalry force. However, Lithuanian armies would have mostly consisted of light cavalry armed with spears while Poland supplied some heavy cavalry and heavier infantry.

There is a lot more information available on this latter period, so I'd suggest looking at such campaigns as took place between the Order and Lithuania-Poland (including the above-mentioned Grunwald / Tannenberg).


This is overall a very brief overview and already it is quite lengthy. There are entire phrases used above which could probably be expanded by books, but I hope that this can prove a good starting point for any exploration you wish to make into these lands. Some good modern overviews of the Western conquest of the Northern Baltics has been written in Swedish (Jonathan Lindström), but I am unsure how much of it has been translated into English. I am unaware of equal works that deal with the Lithuanian side though there is probably an extensive literature in Latvian and Lithuania.

  • Thank you for the comprehensive summary! As it happens I'm actually Swedish, so if you have recommendations for literature in Swedish I would love to hear them. – Ulgur Sep 27 '18 at 10:37
  • @Ulgur: The Lindström chap I mentioned above is the chief guy when I came to actually look up the names I thought to be Swedish! The old master was Eric Christiansen, but when I looked him up, he was actually English and not of Scandinavian heritage. But, beyond these names I was thinking of a few other people who, when I investigated closely right now, were more involved with the latter Swedish history in the 16th centuries (Lars Ericson Wolke and Göran Rystad). Lindström's 'Biskopen och korståget 1206' is on my bookshelf, but I haven't got around to it yet. Sorry for misleading you... – gktscrk Sep 28 '18 at 14:21

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