The Last European Pagans Part II (Resistance)

The newly-made christians of the Balts had an hard time to accept the new faith, and not all of them let themselves be subjugated by this philosophy; rebellions were continuous against the christian orders. The strongest rebelion was in Prussia around 1260 – 1274 led by Herkus Monte. This rebellion was nearly successful, which would have crushed the Crusader state altogether. However, this happened only much later, after the Christianization of Lithuania in 1387. By the year of 1300, both Prussian and Livonian Crusaders crushed the resistance of the subjugated tribes and turned to the only pagan tribe left in Europe – the Lithuanians. Between the years of 1300 to 1400 was the period of ceaseless and merciless warfare. Both sides were strong enough and no one could achieve victory. It became a war of small raids and plunder. The crusaders would march to the Lithuanian periphery two to three times a year, with the Lithuanians returning about one raid a year. Both sides looted the land of the enemy and killed indiscriminately in a spiral of mounting hatred.

In the year of 1386, the Polish nobility invited the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila (Jogiela in Polish) to take the Polish throne on condition that he and his people became Christianized. Jogaila agreed, and in 1387 the official Christianization of Lithuania took place. The western part of Lithuania (Samogitia) rejected it and was Christianized only in 1413. This late date is when the whole of the European continent was brought under the Christian rule.

Right after the Christianization of Europe, the military might of the Teutonic Order started to fade; They no longer received support from Western Europe. The military balance quickly shifted, and in 1410 the joint forces of Lithuanians, Poles and Russians defeated the Order entirely. However, this does not mean that the resistance to Christianity was over. In the wake of Christianity, the Baltic tribes were enslaved. The free peasants and warriors were turned into serfs. They were instructed that being a true Christian means working hard for their master. In Christianized Lithuania, it meant to labour for their former military chief, now turned landlord, or the bishop.

The nobility accepted the new faith readily. For them it was a new era of limitless exploitation of their former comrades in battle of course. However, the folk resistance was intense. Throughout the two centuries of ceaseless warfare Lithuania attracted all those neighbouring tribesmen who refused to be subjugated to Christianity. People continued to worship their old gods in secrecy. Rebellions would spring out continuously, and among those was the rebellion of Samogitia (Western Lithuania) in 1418, and by the year of 1441 throughout all of Lithuania, 1506 in Southern Lithuania, 1536 in Samogitia, 1544-45 in Eastern Lithuania. Those are but the first peasant rebellions against their masters, they continued well into the 17th century.

Christianity brought its usual system of Inquisition and brutality. The only difference was that the persecutions were focused on peasants who refused to abandon their ancient traditions. During the period of Christian assaults, Lithuania had been separated from western Europe. This and the extreme military pressures hindered the development of towns.

The battle against Christianity continued well after the official Christianization of Lithuania. Within their homes and deep in the ancient forests the old worship of the pagan deities continued well into the 17th and even 18th centuries. The old pagan tradition was carried almost to this day.

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