The Ecology of Crusading project: new research on medieval Baltic landscapes

The Ecology of Crusading project: new research on medieval Baltic landscapes

By Aleksander Pluskowski, Alexander Brown, Lisa-Marie Shillito, Krish Seetah, Daniel Makowiecki, Marc Jarzebowski, Kaspars Kļaviņš and Juhan Kreem

Antiquity Bulletin (June 2011)

Introduction: The Ecology of Crusading project is a new programme of research investigating the environmental impact of the Baltic Crusades. In the thirteenth century, crusading armies unleashed a relentless holy war against the last indigenous pagan societies of Europe in the eastern Baltic region. Tribal territories were replaced with new Christian states, run by the Teutonic Order and individual bishops. They constructed castles, encouraged colonists, developed towns and introduced Christianity. Recent pilot studies have suggested that the period of crusading and colonisation coincides with a marked intensification in the exploitation of plant and animal resources, and associated landscape changes in the eastern Baltic. Since many aspects of the natural world were sacred to the Baltic tribes, this impact would be synonymous with the cultural changes that created a new, European world at this frontier of Christendom.

This research focuses on how castles and associated settlements constructed by the Teutonic Order re-organised and transformed local environments in north-eastern Poland, western Lithuania, northern Latvia and southern Estonia (medieval Prussia and Livonia). The research team is examining a diverse range of archaeological and palaeo-environmental material, alongside written and cartographic sources. The research strategy is sub-divided into on- and off-site sampling within the commanderies and administrative hinterlands of each castle. Initial fieldwork in Poland has concentrated particularly on Malbork castle: cores were extracted from the high castle courtyard, moats and fish pond and an assemblage of animal bones recovered from excavations in the outer bailey (Site 1) was analysed. This has provided a solid foundation for modelling the ecological profile of the castle community. Future targeted excavations of castle and related settlement sites will be informed by geophysical surveys designed to identify undisturbed cultural layers, as already conducted at Biała Góra (see below) and Karksi in Estonia, whilst evaluation of on-site palaeoenvironmental material has been carried out at two sites in the Kulmerland (Pień and Grudziądz).

Click here to read this article from Antiquity

Click here to read the article Environmental Crusaders: How Medieval Knights remade Poland’s ecosystems

Click here to visit the Ecology of Crusading Project website

Click here to see our feature on Malbork Castle

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