Shield to the East, Sword to the West
At the onset of the thirteenth century, Kievan Rus' was wracked by internecine warfare.
Princes could not unite, even when threatened by the Mongolian armies. Though they could not
defeat the Mongols, they were at least able to rebuff the enemy attacks. It was in the west
that they were able to achieve their greatest victories of that tumultuous century.
The feud of 1216 set all of northern Rus' in turmoil, and had far-reaching consequences.
Fierce animosity had erupted between Yury and Konstantin, the sons of Great Prince Vsevolod of
Vladimir. The conflict between Yaroslav, another son of the Vladimir prince, and the city of
Novgorod, backed by Prince Mstislav the Bold, was the second spark. Two feuding camps soon emerged,
one led by Yury and Yaroslav, and the other consisting of Konstantin, Mstislav and the people of
Novgorod. In April 1216, the two armies met on the Lipitsa River in a glorious battle. Mstislav
and his mounted guards made their way through the enemy ranks three times, and many warriors died
on both sides. These fallen warriors were sorely missed when the lightning-fast troops of Batu Khan
approached the Russian border.
By the 1230s, the powerful Teutonic Order had become a dangerous neighbor to Kievan Rus'.
Eager to gain control over Novgorod lands, young Prince Alexander Yaroslavich had to face these
Livonians, as they were called in Rus'. In the winter of 1240, the Livonians invaded the territory
owned by Novgorod, and in order to secure their conquest, they built a small fortress called Koporye
not far from the sea, which was supposed to act as a springboard for further attacks. Alexander,
leading the forces that stormed Koporye in late summer 1240, knew that if he seized the outpost he
would disrupt the Teutonic Order's communications and secure approaches to Novgorod. But the most
important thing that he would achieve was victory -- a minor one, but still important in the
Battle of Lake Peipus
In 1242, Prince Alexander decided to go on the offensive. In the winter of that year, he led
the troops of Novgorod and Suzdal in the attack on Pskov, earlier seized by the Teutons, and drove
the latter from the city. Having added the Pskov troops to his army, Alexander invaded the Order's
lands. That devastating raid on the enemy did not remain unanswered, as both the united army of the
Order and the bishop of Dorpat rose against the prince and even won over his outpost support. Alexander
launched a slow retreat towards Lake Peipus. There, with his back against the precipitous bank, he
awaits the enemy. It is April 5, 1242. The distant boom of the approaching force of mounted knights
is barely audible. The warrior's luck is sometimes as fragile as the April ice that has already begun to melt.
Lion of Halych
The life of Daniel of Halych, the Great Prince of Halych-Volhynia, reflected the fate of his country. He
lost his parents at an early age, fought to regain his father's heritage, and struggled against the wayward
boyars and other princes who vied for control over the vast and rich land. After that, he weathered the storm
of a Mongol attack, and engaged in ceaseless wars with neighboring Hungary and Poland, who sought control
Nearly all of these problems befell Daniel at once. In 1245, Rostislav, son of the prince of Chernigov, invaded
Halych-Volhynia. Rostislav's father-in-law, the king of Hungary, gave him an army whose detachments were reinforced
by Poles and rebellious Galician boyars. In early August 1245, Rostislav beleaguered the town of Yaroslav, which
bordered Poland. Daniel immediately moved his army towards the town. He had considerable military experience, but
he was driven by the urge to defend the land of his ancestors. Wasn't this foremost in his mind when he attacked
the enemy and tore their banner from its shaft?
Dovmont of Pskov
Pskov was a border outpost in northwestern Rus', and its importance only increased as war broke out between
Kievan Rus' and the Teutonic Order. In 1266, a Lithuanian prince named Dovmont arrived in Pskov, seeking shelter
from persecution. Having been baptized, he became the Prince of Pskov, which the residents of Pskov never regretted.
Two years later, Dovmont, leading Pskov and Novgorod troops, defeated Teutonic knights in the Battle of Rakovor.
In 1269, the Livonians, having suffered another defeat, were forced to sign a 30-year-long truce.
When the truce neared its expiration, Dovmont's life was also reaching its end. However, he was still able to serve
Pskov one more time. On March 4, 1299, Livonian troops invaded the outskirts of Pskov. The prince's guards drove the
Livonians away, and residents found shelter in the citadel. In the morning, sentries on the city walls saw the enemy
camp down by the river, and witnessed the Livonians preparing for the siege. Dovmont led his guards through the city
gates and set spurs to his horse. The old prince died on May 20, 1299, but his last days were full of unrivalled glory.
Waiting for the Dawn
The tumultuous century was coming to an end. Kievan Rus', thrown into a long twilight, gathered strength,
wasted it, then gained it once more. It lived on to face future victories.