Medieval Armies DBA Page

Lithuanian -- DBA 148b

By David Kuijt

Note: all images are thumbnails, and are clickable to see the larger original.

Lithuanian Army

Composition of DBA Army #148b Lithuanian (1132 AD - 1435 AD)

The DBA options:


Historical opponents listed for the Lithuanians are Later Medieval Scandinavian (#131b), Prussian or Estonian (#148a), Lithuanian (#148b), Later Polish (#149), Teutonic Order (#151), Post Mongol Russian (#157), and Later Ottoman (#160b).

The Teutonic Knights weren't the only ones trying to conquer the Baltic south-east coast; the Danes got in very early. Conflict with Later Medieval Scandinavian armies probably represents such fighting. I'm not certain that an error hasn't been made, though - I think the fighting between the Lithuanians and Danes would have been before the 1280 starting period of the Later Medieval Scandinavian list. Even if that is true, though, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose later conflict, as Lithuania maintained an outlet on the Baltic throughout its history.

Warfare among the Lithuanians was not restricted to its Christian neighbors. In a similar fashion, raids and warfare happened against their heathen neighbors, the Prussians and Estonians. Such warfare would likely occur only until the middle or late 13th century, though. The Teutonic Knights completed the subjugation of the Prussians in 1283; the last revolts were suppressed by 1329. Even though the Prussian/Estonian list continues until 1386, their armies after 1283 would represent revolt against their Teutonic overlords, not external warfare against the Lithuanians.

Inter-tribal warfare probably existed until external pressures and expansion moved the Lithuanians towards a central authority; even when the Lithuanians were theoretically subject to a single ruler civil wars are possible.

The Teutonic Order were dedicated to the conquest and conversion of the heathens in the Baltic. After the middle 13th century, its crusading efforts were almost entirely focussed on Lithuania. Armed raids and atrocities were constant. Although usually enemies, the Teutonic Order were briefly allies of Lithuania from 1250-1253 and again in 1435 for the Swienta campaign.

Lithuanian Auxilia

The Russian principalities that survived the Mongol conquest paid tribute to the Golden Horde (their putative overlords, a Mongol successor Khanate), but retained their own military forces and quite a bit of freedom of action. Lithuania's expansion into the vacuum of western Russia made it a power on a par with any of the Russian princes it bordered; conflict was inevitable.

Warfare with the Later Ottomans could either be later crusades, such as the battle at Nicopolis in 1396 (where Sigismund, King of Hungary and Poland-Lithuania, was defeated by Bayezid), or conflicts in the Crimea (the Bulgarian Empire was a client state of the Ottomans in the later 14th century and adjoined Lithuania).

Enemy List Omissions

The enemies list for the Lithuanians should also include the Mongols (#154). The Lithuanians fought (and lost) a major battle with the Golden Horde in the Crimea in 1399, in addition to other earlier conflicts.

The enemies list should also include Early Polish (#122). The Poles bordered Lithuania from its rise as a powerful region after 1240 until the two states merged in 1386. Although I have not found any concrete examples of warfare between the two, it is very unlikely that none existed until 1335 (the beginning of the Later Polish list).

Finally, the enemies list should include Early Russian (#129). Mstislav of Kiev invaded Lithuania in 1132. The Russian Principality of Polotsk bordered Lithuania until its destruction by the Mongols in 1240; raiding and warfare between Lithuania and the Russian Principalities did not begin after their subjugation by the Mongols and reformation as Mongol client-states in 1246.

Speculative Enemies

In addition to the armies mentioned above, where actual battles were fought, there are a few possibilities for historical conflicts that are not mentioned. These are "reasonable" historical opponents for the Lithuanians - warfare could easily have occurred, even if it did not happen historically.

Viking (#106a). The Danes were messing with the Baltic quite early; they conquered the Estonians by the 1220s. Although the Danish enclave was separated from the Lithuanians by the Knights of the Sword, and Swedish efforts were primarily in Finland, the possibility of a Danish or Swedish intervention or invasion before the Later Medieval Scandinavian list begins in 1280 is quite reasonable.

Later Bulgar (#147). In the last half of the 14th century Lithuania was concentrating on gaining an outlet on the Black Sea, putting them in contact (and potentially in conflict) with the Bulgarian Empire. They reached the Black Sea (and bordered Bulgaria) in 1363. The Bulgarian Empire was periodically subject to the Ottomans during this period, but they were not finally subdued until 1393, and absorbed in 1395. Before then it was still independent enough to have its own army and fight its own wars.

Warfare against the Hussites (#176) is reasonable. The cultures were certainly in contact -- a major Hussite contingent in alliance with Lithuania in 1435. The major enemy of the Hussites was King Sigismund of Hungary, who became Holy Roman Emperor in 1411. Sigismund was brother-in-law to King Vadislav of Poland-Lithuania, and both were still monarchs of their respective realms during the Hussite rebellions in Bohemia that started in 1419. Vadislav died two years before the resolution of the Hussite war, in 1434; Sigismund the year after, in 1437.

Finally, it is possible that the Lithuanians could have faced off against the Later Hungarians (#166) after the dynastic union of Poland and Lithuania in 1386. Before that point Lithuania did not share a border with Hungary, so conflict wasn't likely (both Lithuania and Hungary were primarily concerned with conflicts on other borders, and not likely to become involved in warfare with each other before they shared a border). Even though related by marriage to the King of Hungary from 1386 until the end of the Lithuanian list in 1435, inter-family squabbles leading to war are quite common among monarchs of the period. So even though I haven't found any evidence of such combat, the Later Hungarians are a reasonable hypothetical opponent for the Lithuanians.

Historical Notes

Lithuanian Cavalry Modern Lithuania is a small Baltic nation between Poland and Russia. The borders of the modern nation correspond fairly well to the region dominated by Lithuanian and Samogitan tribes before the arrival of the Mongols. The marshy, heavily wooded lands on the south-east coast of the Baltic were the last pagan region in Europe. Lithuania was only one of several pagan tribes in the Baltic; other tribes were the Lats, Balts, Estonians, and Pruzz or Prussian.

In the late 12th century Papal attention turned to supporting a missionary church effort in the Gulf of Riga; with the help of the military order of the Knights of the Sword the pagan Livs were conquered by 1230. (This corresponds approximately to modern Latvia).

A similar effort against the pagan Prussians failed, and the neighboring Polish magnate appealed to another military order, the Teutonic Knights. They set about establishing a state for themselves among the Pruss. In 1226 the Pope gave the Master of the Teutonic Order princely rights to all land they conquered in Prussia.

The Lithuanians sat squarely between these two crusading efforts; the Knights of the Sword to their north, and the Teutonic Knights and Pruzz to their west. They were the most powerful heathen tribe in the area; their defeat of the Knights of the Sword in 1236 led to that order's being absorbed by the Teutonic Knights.

Lithuanian Light Horse Lithuania gained prominence as the strongest tribe in the area, most able to resist the incursions of the Teutonic Knights. The Knights gradually succeeded in crushing the other pagan tribes, but constant, bitter warfare against the Lithuanians did the Teutonic Knights little long-term good. Quite the contrary, the constant raids unified the Lithuanians, causing them to evolve towards a more centralized leadership that could respond better to the external enemy.

South and east of Lithuania was a number of Russian Principalities. In 1220-40 the Mongols came to Eastern Europe. For the Lithuanians, the spread of Genghis Khan's warriors brought some very positive political fallout.

The first Mongol thrust was largely exploratory, in 1221-1222. They had conquered as far as the Ural Mountains, and sent an army which smashed the Alans, Cumans, and some south-Russian princes. Then, in 1238, they came in earnest. Their main army subjugated the northern Russian principalities of Vladimir, Tver, Novgorod, Smolensk, and Riazan; crushed the Cumans, driving them into Hungary; shattered the Russian principalities of Chernigov and Kiev entirely. Then the Mongol army split into two parts. The southern part invaded Hungary, and at Mohi in 1241 it entirely obliterated the Hungarian army. The northern part invaded Poland and shattered the combined Polish and Teutonic Knight forces at Leignitz. Then they received word that their Khan had died, and the Mongols withdrew.

The result of this devastation was a political vacuum in south Russia. The Lithuanian princes expanded to occupy much of Ruthenia and western Russia, including territory once part of the destroyed Russian principalities of Polotsk and Kiev. This quadrupled their territory, making them much bigger than the Teutonic Order. The population density of their territory was low, but this expansion still made them quite powerful relative to their neighbors.

Russian remained subject to the Mongols, at least in name. The Golden Horde was the western-most fraction of the Mongol successor Khanates, titular rulers of the surviving Russian principalities. As it gradually grew more distracted and weaker, The Princes of Lithuania ended up as protectors of a large region of Eastern Europe. By the middle 14th century they had lost very little ground to the Teutonic Knights on the Baltic, and they had extended south and east into the Crimea. In 1363 they reached the Black Sea.

Lithuania was now the only pagan principality in Europe, and one of the most powerful states in Eastern Europe. Much of its land was not populated by pagans, though, and it was surrounded by Christian states. In 1386 Grand Prince Jagiello of Lithuania converted to Catholicism and married Jadviga, heiress of Poland. He took the name Vladislav, becoming Vadislav II, King of the combined kingdom of Poland-Lithuania.

Lithuanian Infantry The Poles had regretted inviting the Teutonic Knights into their land within a decade or two after doing it. Now the Teutonic Order was one of the primary enemies of Poland, as it had always been for Lithuania. In 1411 the combined forces of Poland-Lithuania met the Teutonic Knights at Tannenberg and broke them.

By the death of Vladislav II in 1434, Poland and Lithuania had essentially merged and distinctive Lithuanian armies no longer existed independently. After their dynastic union in 1386 Lithuania and Poland were fairly tightly knit; commanders of both Polish and Lithuanian forces were often related by marriage or blood. Typically Lithuanian contingents were still provided to the combined army of Poland-Lithuania (later just called Poland), so if you are running a double or triple-size DBA battle set after 1435, it would be appropriate to use a full DBA Lithuanian army as one part of a larger Polish army.

Army Notes

Lithuanian cavalry were almost exclusively unarmoured skirmishers. Some nobles had mail, although these usually fought with their followers rather than as a separate more heavily armed unit. Samogitans may have had more armour, represented by the Cavalry element. (Samogita was the Lithuanian province or region with a Baltic coastline, between the Teutonic Knights to their south-west, Livonia (controlled by the Teutonic Order) to their north. Lithuanian Light Horse

Lithuanian and Samogitan horse fought primarily with a long light spear which could be used for both thrusting and throwing. They often carried bows, but these seem to have been used exclusively for fighting on foot.

The Auxilia elements represent groups of Lithuanian spearmen. The Psiloi elements are bowmen fighting as skirmishers.

Notes on Tactics

The Lithuanian army has the usual problem of a light-horse army. Hard to kill, but no significant punch. They have a very good group of bad-going troops - none of their historical opponents can really match them in the bad going. Their dominance of bad going is one major advantage; the other is their speed. They have the speed to attack quickly against any weakness. If you can get a flanking attack, go for it.

When running the Lithuanians you must decide if you are going to spend your pips primarily on your Light Horse, or on the Auxilia/Psiloi. Normally, an enemy concerned about protecting its flanks against a light horse army would secure one or both flanks on rough terrain. Against the Lithuanians this doesn't work so well, as they have the strength in bad-going troops to run a column of them into any such position. But bad-going combat can be an enormous pip-drain. Keep your bad-going troops in a column as long as possible, so you can move the infantry up to combat with a single pip even in bad going. This will help you delay the decision until your enemy commits his forces. If he tries to support a flank with bad going, spend most of your pips attacking that weak point with infantry. If he leaves hanging flanks, leave the infantry low on pips and try dramatic outflanking maneuvers with your light horse. But don't try both -- you won't have the pips for it.

The big concern for the Lithuanian army is enemy Bow or Crossbow. The Later Scandinavians get four such elements; the Later Polish and Teutonic Order each two, likewise two elements in each of the Post-Mongol Russian and Later Ottoman. Of the Lithuanian historical opponents listed, only the Prussian/Estonian army gets no missile troops. (Incidently, the Prussians are horrendously mismatched against the Lithuanians - warband against light horse is very grim; the factors are the same, but the light horse will not die if doubled) Lithuanian Archers

Figure Notes

The bulk of the figures shown are Gladiator FE range, carved by Josef Ochman. Herr Ochman is a very talented sculptor; they are beautiful figures.

Last modified: January 20, 1999. Added the rest of the pictures.

Page created: December 29, 1998.

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