Livonian War (1558–1583)

views updated May 29 2018

LIVONIAN WAR (15581583)

LIVONIAN WAR (15581583). In 1558 Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible began over twenty years of war for a Baltic foothold by invading eastern Estonia, an area made vulnerable by factional divisions within the Livonian Order (the Order of the Brothers of the Sword) and political conflict among the order, the archbishopric of Riga, and the increasingly Protestant population of the towns. Moscow's potential rivalsSweden and Polandwere preoccupied with other concerns; Muscovy therefore enjoyed early success. By 1560 Narva and Dorpat and most of the Livonian interior as far as Courland was under Muscovite occupation. But this provoked the Danes, Sweden, and Poland into entering the war.

The second phase of the Livonian War (15631571) saw Muscovite armies invade Lithuania; Polotsk, Ozerishche, and other towns along the Western Dvina quickly fell to them. The tsar planned to install Duke Magnus, brother of Denmark's King Frederick II, as vassal king of Livonia to secure a Danish alliance to drive the Swedes out of Riga and Pernau (Pärnu), which they had seized in 1560. Muscovite occupation of northeastern Lithuania finally convinced the Lithuanian nobility to accept closer administrative union with Poland in a Commonwealth (in the Union of Lublin, 1569), which considerably increased the military resources available to the Polish crown. Frederick II not only withheld the support Duke Magnus needed to expel the Swedes but signed a treaty with the Swedes at Stettin in 1570. The deposition of King Erik XIV brought to the Swedish throne John III Vasa (ruled 15681592), who was the son-in-law of King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland and was inclined to view Muscovy as a greater threat than Poland to Swedish interests in Livonia. The military stalemate in Lithuania and Livonia had meanwhile left Muscovy's southern frontier undermanned, with the result that Khan Devlet Girei took a large Crimean Tatar army deep into central Muscovy, sacking and burning Moscow itself in 1571.

In the third phase of the war (15721577) Ivan IV exploited the interregnum following the death of Sigismund II to mount another major offensive in Livonia. But the Muscovites were still unable to capture Reval (Tallinn) or Riga. Meanwhile the Commonwealth's newly elected king Stephen Báthory (ruled 15761586) was able to achieve rapprochement with the Ottomans and Crimeans, to convince the Sejm to raise taxes for a much larger army of 56,000 men, and to negotiate an alliance with the Swedes. By contrast Ivan IV was finding it harder to maintain large Muscovite forces in the field, for years of heavy taxation and manpower mobilization from the western Muscovite provinces (particularly Novgorod and Pskov) had left these districts devastated.

In 1578 Polish and Swedish armies combined to deal the Muscovites a crushing defeat at Wenden (Cēsis). This marked the war's final phase, which was catastrophic for the Muscovites. Over the next three years they were pushed out of Livonia altogether. Stephen Báthory recaptured Polotsk and the other towns of the Western Dvina region in 15791580 and carried the war into western Muscovy, placing Pskov under protracted siege in 1581. By the end of 1581 the Muscovite garrisons at Narva, Ivangorod, Yama (Kingisepp), and Kopor'e had fallen to the Swedish general Pontus De la Gardie. Ivan IV was compelled to sign a ten years' armistice with the Commonwealth at Iam Zapol'skii in January 1582 and a three years' armistice with Sweden at Pliuss in 1583. The tsar thereby forfeited all the lands his armies had occupied along the Baltic coast. Central and southwestern Livonia came under Commonwealth control; the Swedes took Estonia and the territory along the Gulf of Finland.

See also Ivan IV, "the Terrible" (Russia) ; Lublin, Union of (1569) ; Northern Wars ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 ; Sigismund II Augustus (Poland, Lithuania) ; Stephen Báthory ; Sweden ; Vasa Dynasty (Sweden) .


Frost, Robert I. The Northern Wars: War, State, and Society in Northeastern Europe, 15581721. Harlow, U.K., and New York, 2000.

Koroliuk, V. D. Livonskaia voina: Iz istorii vneshnei politiki russkogo tsentralizovannogo gosudarstva vo vtoroi polovinie XVI v. Moscow, 1954.

Roberts, Michael. The Early Vasas: A History of Sweden, 15231611. Cambridge, U.K., and London, 1968.

Brian Davies

Livonian War

views updated May 21 2018


The Livonian War (15581583), for the possession of Livonia (historic region that became Latvia and Estonia) was first between Russia and the knightly Order of Livonia, and then between Russia and Sweden and the PolishLithuanian Commonwealth.

The outbreak of war was preceded by RussianLivonian negotiations resulting in the 1554 treaty on a fifteenyear armistice. According to this treaty, Livonians were to pay annual tribute to the Russian tsar for the city of Dorpat (now Tartu), on grounds that the city (originally known as "Yuriev") belonged formerly to Russian princes, ancestors of Ivan IV. Using the overdue payment of this Yuriev tribute as a pretext, the tsar declared war on Livonia in January 1558.

As for Ivan IV's true reasons for beginning the war, two possibilities have been suggested. The first was offered in the 1850s by Russian historian Sergei Soloviev, who presented Ivan the Terrible as a precursor of Peter the Great in his efforts to gain harbors on the Baltic Sea and thus to establish direct economic relations with European countries. Until 1991 this explanation remained predominant in Russian and Soviet historiography; it was also shared by some Swedish and Danish scholars.

However, from the 1960s on, the thesis of economic (trade) interests underlying Ivan IV's decision to make war on Livonia has been subjected to sharp criticism. The critics pointed out that the tsar, justifying his military actions in Livonia, never referred to the need for direct trade with Europe; instead he referred to his hereditary rights, calling Livonia his patrimony (votchina ). The alternative explanation proposed by Norbert Angermann (1972) and supported by Erik Tiberg (1984) and, in the 1990s, by some Russian scholars (Filyushkin, 2001), emphasizes the tsar's ambition for expanding his power and might.

It is most likely that Ivan IV started the war with no strategic plan in mind: He just wanted to punish the Livonians and force them to pay the contribution and fulfil all the conditions of the previous treaty. The initial success gave the tsar hope of conquering all Livonia, but here his interests clashed with the interests of PolandLithuania and Sweden, and thus a local conflict grew into a long and exhaustive war between the greatest powers of the Baltic region.

As the war progressed, Ivan IV changed allies and enemies; the scene of operations also changed. So, in the course of the war one can distinguish four different periods: 1) from 1558 to 1561, the period of initial Russian success in Livonia; 2) the 1560s, the period of confrontation with Lithuania and peaceful relations with Sweden; 3) from 1570 to 1577, the last efforts of Ivan IV in Livonia; and 4) from 1578 to 1582, when severe blows from PolandLithuania and Sweden forced Ivan IV to give up all his acquisitions in Livonia and start peace negotiations.

During the campaign of 1558, Russian armies, encountering no serious resistance, took the important harbor of Narva (May 11) and the city of Dorpat (July 19). After a long pause (an armistice from March through November 1559), in 1560 Russian troops undertook a new offensive in Livonia. On August 2 the main forces of the Order were defeated near Ermes (now Ergeme); on August 30 an army led by prince Andrei Kurbsky captured the castle of Fellin (now Vilyandy).

As the collapse of the enfeebled Livonian Order became evident, the knighthood and cities of Livonia began to seek the protection of Baltic powers: Lithuania, Sweden, and Denmark. In 1561 the country was divided: The last master of the Order, Gottard Kettler, became vassal of Sigismund II Augustus, the king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania, and acknowledged sovereignty of the latter over the territory of the abolished Order; simultaneously the northern part of Livonia, including Reval (now Tallinn), was occupied by the Swedish troops.

Regarding Sigismund II as his principal rival in Livonia and trying to ally with Erik XIV of Sweden, Ivan IV declared war on Lithuania in 1562. A large Russian army, led by the tsar himself, besieged the city of Polotsk on the eastern frontier of the Lithuanian duchy and seized it on February 15,1563. In the following years Lithuanians managed to avenge this failure, winning two battles in 1564 and capturing two minor fortresses in 1568, but no decisive success was achieved.

By the beginning of the 1570s the international situation had changed again: A coup d'état in Sweden (Erik XIV was dethroned by his brother JohnIII) put an end to the RussianSwedish alliance; Poland and Lithuania (in 1569 the two states united into one, Rzecz Pospolita), on the contrary, adhered to a peaceful policy during the sickness of King Sigismund II Augustus (d. 1572) and periods of interregnum (15721573, 15741575). Under these circumstances Ivan IV tried to drive Swedish forces out of northern Livonia: Russian troops and the tsar's vassal, Danish duke Magnus (brother of Frederick II of Denmark), besieged Revel for thirty weeks (August 21, 1570March 16, 1571), but in vain. The alliance with the Danish king proved its inefficiency, and the raids of Crimean Tartars (for instance, the burning of Moscow by Khan DevletGirey on May 24, 1571) made the tsar postpone further actions in Livonia for several years.

In 1577 Ivan IV made his last effort to conquer Livonia; his troops occupied almost the entire country (except for Reval and Riga). Next year the war entered its final phase, fatal to the Russian cause in Livonia.

In 1578 Russian troops in Livonia were defeated by combined PolishLithuanian and Swedish forces near the fortress Venden (now Tsesis), and the tsar's vassal, duke Magnus, joined the Polish side. In 1579 the Polish king, Stephen Bathory, a talented general, recaptured Polotsk; the following year, he invaded Russia and devastated the Pskov region, having taken the fortresses of Velizh and Usvyat and having burned Velikiye Luky. During his third Russian campaign in August 1581, Bathory besieged Pskov; the garrison led by prince Ivan Shuisky repulsed thirtyone assaults. At the same time the Swedish troops seized Narva. Without allies, Ivan IV sought peace. On January 15, 1582, the treaty concluded in Yam Zapolsky put an end to the war with Rzecz Pospolita: Ivan IV gave up Livonia, Polotsk, and Velizh (Velikiye Luky was returned to Russia). In 1583 the armistice with Sweden was concluded, yielding Russian towns Yam, Koporye, and Ivangorod to the Swedish side.

The failure of the Livonian war spelled disaster for Ivan IV's foreign policy; it weakened the position of Russia towards its neighbors in the west and north, and the war was calamitous for the northwestern regions of the country.

See also: ivan iv


Esper, Thomas. (1966). "Russia and the Baltic, 1494-1558." Slavic Review 25:458-474.

Kirchner, Walter. (1954). The Rise of Baltic Question. Newark: University of Delaware Press.

Mikhail M. Krom