Battle of Grunwald
The Battle of Grunwald took place on July 15 1410 between the Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and their allies on one side, and the Knights of the Teutonic Order on the other. It was the decisive battle of the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War (1409-1411). The Teutonic Order state was defeated in the battle and never recovered its former influence.
The few eyewitness accounts of the battle are contradictory. The battle was fought in the plains between the now Polish villages of Grunwald (Žalgiris in Lithuanian), Stębark (Tannenberg in German) and Łodwigowo (Ludwigsdorf in German) in what was then Teutonic Order territory. The nearest city of any size was Dąbrówno (Gilgenburg in German). The names Žalgiris (from Lithuanian: žalia giria) and Grunwald (from German: grüner Wald), are both tentatively translated as Green forest. It was also named in OldPolish as Zielone Pole (Polish Green feld) and German Grunenfelde, Grunefeld Green feld in the oldest texts.
The battle is also called Žalgirio mūšis (Battle of Žalgiris) by Lithuanians, Bitwa pod Grunwaldem (Battle of Grunwald) by Poles, Гру́нвальдзкая бі́тва (Battle of Grunwald) by Belarusians or Schlacht bei Tannenberg (Battle of Tannenberg/Stebark) by Germans, Grünwald suğışı by Tatars.
- 1 Eve of the battle
- 2 Opposing forces
- 3 Course of the battle
- 4 After the Battle
- 5 Influences of the Battle of Grunwald on modern culture
- 6 Banners
- 7 Related reading
- 8 External links
Eve of the battle
In the 13th century, the Teutonic Knights had been invited to the lands surrounding Chełmno to assist in the expulsion of the (pagan) Prussians. They stayed on, and, under a papal edict which gave them effective carte blanche to act as they wished, established a power base in the region, occupying the Baltic coastal regions of what are now Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and showed every signs of further expansion. Their incursions into Poland in the 14th century gave them control of major towns such as Chełmno(Kulm) and Pomorze(Pommern) region. In order to further their war efforts against the (pagan) Lithuanian state, the Teutonic Knights instituted a series of crusades, enlisting support from other European countries.
In 1385 the Union of Krewo joined the crown of Poland and Lithuania, and the subsequent marriage of Jogaila, Grand Duke of Lithuania, and the Polish monarch Queen Jadwiga was to shift the balance of power; both nations were more than aware that only by acting together could the expansion plans of the Teutonic Order be thwarted. Jogaila accepted Christianity and became the King of Poland as Władysław Jagiełło, which removed much of the rationale of the Teutonic Knights' anti-pagan crusades.
The Knights, however, invaded in 1398 again what was now a united and mainly Christian state of Poland and Lithuania. At this time, the Poles and the Lithuanians had little option but to suffer in silence for they were still not prepared militarily to confront the power of the Knights.
In 1409 an uprising in Teutonic-held Samogitia started. The king of Poland backed up Lithuania and announced that he would stand by his promises in case the Teutons invaded Lithuania. This was used as a pretext and on August 14 1409 the Teutonic Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen declared war on the Polish-Lithuanian union. The forces of the Teutonic Order initially invaded Greater Poland and Kuyavia, but the Poles repelled the invasion and reconquered Bydgoszcz(Bromberg), which led to a subsequent armistice agreement that was to last until June 24 1410. The Lithuanians and the Poles used this time in preparations to remove the Teutonic threat once and for all.
The forces of the Teutonic Knights were aware of the Polish-Lithuanian build-up and were expecting a dual attack by the Poles towards Danzig(Gdańsk) and the Lithuanians towards Samogitia. To counter this threat, Ulrich von Jungingen concentrated part of his forces in Schwetz(Świecie) while leaving large part of his army in the eastern castles of Ragneta/Ragainė, Ryn and Memel(Klaipėda). Poles and Lithuanians continued to screen their intentions by organising several raids deep into enemy territory. Ulrich von Jungingen asked for the armistice to be extended to July 4 in order to let the mercenaries from western Europe arrive. This however gave enough time for the Polish-Lithuanian forces to gather in strength.
On June 30, 1410 the forces of Greater Poland and Lesser Poland crossed the Vistula over a pontoon bridge and joined with the forces of Masovia and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Jagiełło's Polish forces and the Lithuanian soldiers of his cousin Vytautas the Great (to whom Jagiełło had ceded power in Lithuania in the wake of his marriage to the Polish queen) assembled on July 2 1410 and a week later crossed into the territory of the Teutonic Knights, heading for the enemy headquarters at the castle of Malbork. The Teutonic Knights were caught by surprise.
Ulrich von Jungingen withdrew his forces from the area of Świecie/Schwetz and decided to organise a line of defence on the Drwęca River. The river crossings were fortified with stockades and the castles nearby reinforced. After meeting with his War Council, Jagiełło decided to outflank the enemy forces from the East and continue the march towards Marienburg through Soldau(Działdowo) and Gilgenburg(Dąbrówno). On July 13 both castles were captured and the way towards Marienburg was opened.
In the early morning of July 15, 1410, both armies met in the fields near the villages of Grunwald, Tannenberg and Łodwigowo (Ludwigsdorf). Both armies were dislocated in line formations. The Polish-Lithuanian army was set up in front of the villages of Łodwigowo/Ludwigsdorf and Stębark/Tannenberg. The left flank was guarded by the Polish forces of king Władysław Jagiełło and composed mostly of heavy cavalry. The right flank of the allied forces was guarded by the army of Grand Duke Vytautas, and composed mostly of light cavalry. Among the forces on the right flank were banners from all over the Grand Duchy, as well as Tatar skirmishers and (probably) Moldavian mercenaries. The opposing forces of the Teutonic Order were composed mostly of heavy cavalry and infantry. They were aided by mercenaries from Western Europe, called "the guests of the Order".
The exact number of soldiers on both sides is hard to estimate. There are only two reliable sources describing the battle. The best-preserved and most complete was written by Ioannes Longinus but does not mention the exact numbers. The other is incomplete and preserved only in a brief 16th century document. Shortly after the battle in December 1410 the new Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Heinrich von Plauen, sent letters to Western European monarchs, in which he described the battle as a war against the forces of evil pagans. This view was shared by many chronicle writers. Since the outcome of the battle was subject to propaganda campaigns on both sides, many foreign authors frequently overestimated the Polish-Lithuanian forces in an attempt to explain the dramatic result.
In one of the Prussian chronicles it is mentioned that „the forces of the Polish king were so numerous that there is no number high enough in the human language“. One of the anonymous chronicles from Lubeck mentions that the forces of Jagiello numbered some 1,700,000 soldiers, the forces of Vytautas with 2,700,000 (as well as a great number of Ruthenians), in addition to 1,500,000 Tatars. Among the forces supposedly aiding the Polish-Lithuanian army were „Saracens, Turks, pagans of Damascus, Persia and other lands“. According to Enguerrand de Monstrelet the Teutons fielded some 300,000 men, while their enemies under the kings of „Lithuania, Poland and Sarmatia“ fielded 600,000. Andrew of Regensburg estimated the Polish-Lithuanian forces at 1,200,000 men-at-arms.
More recent historians estimate the strength of the opposing forces at a much lower level. Ludwik Kolankowski estimated the Polish-Lithuanian forces at 16,000-18,000 Polish cavalry and 6,000-8,000 Lithuanian light cavalry, with the Teutonic Knights fielding 13,000-15,000 heavy cavalry. Jerzy Dąbrowski estimated the overall strength of the allied forces at 18,000 Polish cavalry and 11,000 Lithuanians and Ruthenians, with the opposing forces bringing 16,000 soldiers.
|Luebeck Chronicle||1 700 000||2 700 000||1 500 000|
|Enguerrand de Monstrelet||600 000||300 000|
|Andrew of Regensburg||1 200 000|
|Ludwik Kolankowski||18 000 heavy cavalry||8 000 light cavalry||15 000 heavy cavalry|
|Jerzy Dąbrowski||18 000||11 000||16 000 + 3 000 guests|
|Henryk Łowmiański||12 000 heavy cavalry||7 200 light cavalry||11 000 heavy cavalry|
|Andrzej Nadolski||20 000||10 000||1000|
Regardless of such estimates, most of the modern historians count only the cavalry units. Apart from 16,000 cavalry, the Teutonic Order also fielded some 9,000 infantry, archers and crossbow troops. Both armies also had large military camps, tabors and other units, which made up some 10% of their total strength.
Both armies were organised in banners. Each heavy cavalry banner was composed of approximately 240 mounted knights as well as their squires and armour-bearers. Each banner flew its own standard and fought independently. Lithuanian banners were usually weaker and composed of approximately 180 light cavalry soldiers. The structure of foot units (pikemen, archers, crossbowmen) and the artillery is unknown.
The forces on both sides were composed of troops coming from a variety of countries and lands. Apart from units fielded by lands of Poland, Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Teutonic Order, there were also mercenaries from Western Europe (most notably Alsace, Lorraine, German Countries, Moravia, Bohemia and probably Moldavia. Historians of the Soviet Union attempted to overemphasize the Russian role in the battle. For example, they included some Lithuanian banners, such as Smolensk, into the Russian list. They also phrased the desciption of the battle to make it appear that the support from Russian lands was decisive. In fact there was a joke that "the battle with the fascist Teutons was won by joint Polish-Soviet forces" (most of the territory of the Grand Duchy was part of the Soviet Union in 20th century).
The overall commander of the joint Polish-Lithuanian forces was king Władysław Jagiełło, with the Polish units subordinated to Marshal of the Crown Zbigniew of Brzezie and Lithuanian units under the immediate command of Grand Duke Vytautas. Until recently it was believed that the Sword Bearer of the Crown Zyndram of Maszkowice was the commander in chief of the joint army, but this idea was based on a false translation of the description of the battle by Ioannes Longinus. The Teutonic Forces were commanded directly by the Grand Master of the Order Ulrich von Jungingen.
Course of the battle
The opposing forces formed their lines at dawn. At noon the forces of Grand Duke Vytautas started an all-out assault on the left flank of the Teutonic forces, near the village of Tannenberg(Stębark). The Lithuanian cavalry was supported by a cavalry charge of several Polish banners on the right flank of the enemy forces. The enemy heavy cavalry counter-attacked on both flanks and fierce fighting occurred. After more than an hour, the Lithuanian light cavalry started to break and withdraw, but soon the withdrawal turned into a rapid retreat towards the marshes and woods. Only three banners of Smolensk commanded by Semen Lingwen, son of Algirdas and brother of both Vytautas and Jagiełło, remained on the right flank. One of them was totally destroyed while the remaining two were backed up by the Polish cavalry held in reserve and broke through the enemy lines to the Polish positions.
Heavy cavalry of the Order started a disorganised pursuit after the fleeing Lithuanians and entered the marshes, where Vytautas started to reorganise his forces. At the same time heavy fighting continued on the left flank of the Polish forces. After several hours of massed battle, the Teutonic cavalry started to gain the upper hand. According to Ioannes Longinus the Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen personally led a cavalry charge on the strongest Polish unit — the Banner of the Land of Kraków. The Polish ranks started to waver and the flag of the banner was lost. However, it was soon recaptured by the Polish knights and king Władysław Jagiełło ordered most of his reserves to enter combat. The arrival of fresh troops allowed the Poles to repel the enemy assault and the forces of Ulrich von Jungingen were weakened. At the same time his reserves were still busy pursuing the scattered Lithuanian cavalry. When they finally returned to the battlefield, it was already too late for the Teutonic charge to succeed and the forces of the Order started the withdrawal.
After several hours of fighting, Ulrich von Jungingen decided to join his embattled forces in the main line of engagement, which were by then becoming outnumbered by the mass of Polish knights and the advancing Polish infantry, which all of a sudden had come pouring on the battlefield from the surrounding forests. He personally led the assault with 16 banners of heavy cavalry, until then held in reserve. Jagiełło threw in all his remaining reserves, as well as several already tired units. Soon Grand Duke Vytautas managed to reorganise part of his forces, returned to the battlefield, and also joined the fierce fighting. Putting up heavy resistance, the 16 banners of the Great Master were surrounded and began to suffer high losses, including the Grand Master himself, who was probably killed by Polish peasantry. Seeing the fall of their Grand Master, the rest of the Teutonic forces started to withdraw towards their camp. Part of the routed units retreated to the forests where they were pursued by the Polish and Lithuanian cavalry, while the rest retreated to the camp near the village of Grunwald, where they tried to organise the defence by using the tabor tactics: the camp was surrounded by waggons tied up with chains, serving as a mobile fortification. However, the defences were soon broken and the camp was looted. According to the anonymous author of the Chronicle of the Conflict of Ladislaus King of Poland with the Teutons Anno Domini 1410, there were more bodies in and around the camp than on the rest of the battlefield. The pursuit after the fleeing Teutonic cavalry lasted until the dusk.
Despite the technological superiority of the Teutonic Knights, to the point of this being believed to be the first battle in this part of Europe in which field-artillery was deployed, the numbers and tactical superiority of the Polish Lithuanian alliance were to prove overwhelming.
Jan Žižka of Trocnov lost his eye in the battle.
After the Battle
The defeat of the Teutonic Order was resounding. According to Andrzej Nadolski about 8,000 Teuton soldiers were killed in the battle, and an additional 14,000 taken captive. Most of the approximately 250 members of the Order were also killed, including much of the Teutonic leadership. Apart from Ulrich von Jungingen himself, the Polish and Lithuanian forces killed also the Grand Marshal Friedrich von Wallenrode, Grand Komtur Kuno von Lichtenstein and Albrecht von Schwartzburg, the Grand Treasurer Thomas von Merheim. Komtur of Brandenburg, Markward von Salzbach and the mayor of Sambia Schaumburg were executed by order of Vytautas after the battle. The only higher officials to escape from the battle were Grand Hospital Master and Komtur of Elbing Werner von Tettinger. Such a slaughter of noble knights and personalities was quite unusual in Mediæval Europe. This was possible mostly due to the participation of the peasantry who joined latter stages of the battle, and took part in destruction of the surrounded Teutonic troops. Unlike the noblemen, the peasants did not receive any ransom for taking captives; they thus had less of an incentive to keep them alive. Among those taken captive were Kasimir V, duke of Stettin (Szczecin) , and Konrad the White, duke of Oels(Oleśnica).
After the battle Polish and Lithuanian forces stayed on the battlefield for three days. All notable officials were interred in separate graves, while the body of Ulrich von Jungingen was covered with royal coat and transported to Marienburg. The rest of the dead were gathered in several mass graves. There are different speculations as to why Jagiello decided to wait that long. After three days, the Polish-Lithuanian forces moved on to Marienburg and laid siege upon the castle, but the three days time was enough for the Teutons to organise the defence. After several weeks of siege, the Lithuanian Grand Duke withdrew from the war and it became clear that the siege would not be effective. The nobility from Lesser Poland also wanted to end the war before the harvest and the siege was lifted.
In the battle, both Polish and Lithuanian forces took several thousand captives. Most of the mercenaries were released shortly after the battle on the condition that they will return to Kraków on September 29, 1410. After that move, the king held most of the Teutonic officials, while the rest returned to Prussia to beg the Teutonic Order officials for their liberation and ransom payment. This proved to be a major drain of the Teutonic budget as an average rate for a knight was quite high. For instance, one of the mercenaries named Holbracht von Loym had to pay sixty times the number of 150 Prague groszes, that is almost 300 kilograms of pure silver, a value uncommon even in modern times. With his army defeated and the remnants of it composed mostly of ill-paid mercenaries, Heinrich von Plauen had little incentive to continue the fight, especially that most of the cities owned by the Teutons sworn their loyalty to the Polish king. Thus, after retaking Danzig from rebelious burghers, the peace negotiations were started.
The Peace of Thorn (Peace of Toruń) was concluded as a result of the Battle of Grunwald, in which Poland annexed the Dobriner Land ( Dobrzyń Land) and Lithuania recovered Samogitia. This is thought to be a diplomatic defeat for Poland and Lithuania as they pushed for attempts to dismantle the Teutonic Knights state altogether. However, while the Poles and Lithuanians were unable to translate their military victory to greater political gains, the indirect results of the battle were much worse for the Teutons. The massacre of Teutonic troops left them with few forces to defend their remaining territories. The Grand Masters from then on had to rely on mercenary troops, which proved too expensive for the Teutons' budget to sustain. Although Heinrich von Plauen, the successor to Ulrich von Jungingen, managed to save his state from complete breakdown, the opposition to his rule among the burghers, the knights and within the Order itself forced his ouster.
Eventually, the Teutons' internal conflicts and constant tax increases led to the uprising of the Prussian Confederation. The power of the Teutonic Knights waned as a result of this revolt, and the order never recovered. This decline led to a series of conflicts that culminated in the Thirteen Years' War, leading to the death of the victorious order.
Influences of the Battle of Grunwald on modern culture
The battle of Grunwald is regarded as one of the most important battles in the Polish history. It is often depicted by an ideogram of two swords, which were supposedly given to king Jagiello before the battle by the Teutonic envoys to "raise Polish desire for battle".
In 1910, on the eve of World War I, during the celebrations marking the 500-year anniversary of the battle a monument was erected in Kraków. The ceremony spawned demonstrations of outrage within Polish society against the aggressive politics of the German Empire, including the forcible germanisation of Poles after the partitions of Poland. Polish poet Maria Konopnicka wrote the fiercely Polish-patriotic and anti-German poem Rota. About the same time, Henryk Sienkiewicz wrote his book The Teutonic Knights (Polish: Krzyżacy) , one of his series of books designed to increase the patriotic spirit among the Poles. The book was eventually depicted in the film The Teutonic Knights by Aleksander Ford. Contemporary, a festival is held every year to commemorate this medieval battle. Thousands of historical fans, many of them in knight's armor, from all across Europe gather every year in July at the Grunwald fields to reconstruct the battle again. Great care is put to the historical details of the armour, weapons and the conduct of the battle.
Order Krzyża Grunwaldu (The Grunwald Cross Medal) was a Polish military award created in 1943 by commander of Gwardia Ludowa (in 1944 confirmed by Krajowa Rada Narodowa) and was given for heroism in World War II.
The victory at the Battle of Grunwald or Žalgirio mūšis in 1410 is synonymous to the peak of the political and military power of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The demise of the Teutonic order ended the period of German expansion and created preconditions for the political stability, economic growth and relative cultural prosperity that lasted until the rise of Muscovy in the late XVI century. In the Lithuanian historical discourse regarding the battle there is a lasting debate and controversy over the role played by the Lithuanian-born king of Poland Jogaila and the Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas, the latter usually being favoured as a national hero.
The term Žalgiris became a symbol of the resistence to the foreign domination over Lithuania. The victories of the basketball club BC Žalgiris Kaunas against the Soviet Army sports club CSKA Moscow (in the late 1980s) served as a major emotional inspiration for the Lithuanian national revival, and the consequent emergence of Sąjūdis movement that led to the collapse of USSR.
In Germany the battle was known as the Battle of Tannenberg. In 1914 yet another Battle of Tannenberg took place between Germany and Russia, ending with a Russian defeat. In German official propaganda during the WWI / WWII period the 1914 battle was put forth as revenge for the Polish - Lithuanian victory 504 years before.
Russia and Soviet Union
The exact Order of Battle of the Polish forces is unknown. However, Ioannes Longinus in his Historiæ Polonicæ written after 1455 recorded 51 Polish banners, together with their descriptions, blazoning and commanders. It is not certain whether the list is complete.
Due to different system of feudal overlordship, as well as lack of heraldic traditions, the units of Grand Duchy of Lithuania were all grouped under banners of two types: the Vytis and the Poles of Gediminas. The only difference between various lands using the same emblem was the blazon. The hareness and the colour of the horse on the Vytis differed.
Note that the number of Lithuanian banners is uncertain. According to Ioannes Longinus there were 40 banners on the right flank of the Polish-Lithuanian forces, 10 flying the Poles of Gediminas and 30 flying the Vytis. However, he also mentions that there might have been 2 additional banners from Smolensk and up to six additional banners of Samogitia. German authors also mention that there were three auxiliary banners of Moldavia flying their own flags. In addition, it is probable that the units of Trakai, Volhynia, Smolensk, Kiev and Nowogródek used their own emblems.
- Stefan Kuczyński, Szymon Kobyliński, Chorągwie grunwaldzkich zwycięzców (The Banners of the Victors of Grunwald); WAiF, Warsaw, 1989. ISBN 8322104677
- Ioannes Longinus, Annales seu Cronicæ Incliti Regni Poloniæ; PWN, Warsaw, 2000. ISBN 8301133015
- Ioannes Longinus, Bitwa grunwaldzka; Ossolineum, Wrocław, 2003. ISBN 8304046326
- Henryk Sienkiewicz, Krzyżacy (The Teutonic Knights); Tygodnik Ilustrowany, Kraków, 1900. ISBN 0781804337
- James A. Michener, Poland; Random House, 1984. ISBN 0449205878
- Analysis of the battle
- Battle of Grunwald 1410
- Account of the battle by Jan Dlugosz, secretary to the Bishop of Cracow, written sixty years after battle
- Grunwald Commune (with pictures of the Grunwald Battle 1999 and 2000)
- Grunwald village on the map of Poland
- Ignacy Paderewski speech at the Grunwald monument inauguration in Cracow 1910 (500 aniversary)
- Battle of Grunwald, a painting by Jan Matejko
- Gospelcom Summary
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