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Welcome light on an obscure period
on 21 June 2001
This is a very readable account of a subject largely inaccessible to the general reader. It covers the conquest and conversion of the pagan tribes of the Southern and Eastern Baltic Coasts from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, the extension of German civilisation north-eastwards and the collision, and ultimate uneasy equilibrium between Latin and Orthodox Christianity in the area. The surprise of the book, for this reader at least, is the fact that the Dark Ages endured in this corner of Europe well into Medieval times, and that Paganism was still a vibrant force there almost until the period of the Renaissance. A significant strength of the book is the introductory section, which provides a fascinating overview of the peoples and cultures of the area at the opening of the period covered, and this is built upon in greater detail, when necessary in more detailed accounts of specific campaigns. The linkage to the overall Crusading ideal is well handled and though the transformation of the Teutonic Knights from a warrior order in Frankish Palestine to a frontier force skilled in forest, river and marshland warfare is a dominant theme, the roles of the Danes, Swedes and Russians, not to mention a host of Baltic tribes, receive equal attention. The mechanics of the warfare of the period, including the particular constraints imposed by climate and terrain, are well handled. In summary - a splendidly informative work that cast light on an obscure period that bred baleful myths with dire consequences in more recent times.