Swedish–Novgorodian Wars

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Swedish–Novgorodian Wars were a series of conflicts in the 12th and 13th centuries between the Republic of Novgorod and medieval Sweden over control of the Gulf of Finland, an area vital to the Hanseatic League and part of the Varangian-Byzantine trade route. The Swedish attacks against Orthodox Russians had religious overtones, but before the 14th century there is no knowledge of official crusade bulls issued by the pope.


Scandinavians maintained trade relations and other links with Novgorod from the Viking Age onwards. Merchants from Gotland operated both their own trading house (Gutagård) and the St. Olof church in Novgorod. Scandinavians also carried out isolated raids on Novgorod. Eiríkr Hákonarson raided Ladoga in 997, and his brother Sveinn Hákonarson followed suit in 1015. After the marriage of Yaroslav I (Grand Prince of Novgorod and Kiev) to Ingegerd of Sweden in 1019, Ladoga became a jarldom in the orbit of Kievan Rus. It was ruled by Ragnvald Ulfsson, the alleged father of King Stenkil of Sweden (reigned 1060-1066). Dynastic marriages took place between Russian and Scandinavian royal families - for example, in the 1090s Stenkil's granddaughter Christina married Mstislav of Novgorod, upon whose death in 1132 Novgorod seceded from Kievan Rus.

The major turning point into more permanent conflict between Sweden and Novgorod arrived with Sweden's firmer organization into the Catholic Church in the 12th century[citation needed] and papal involvement in crusades against lands controlled by the Orthodox Church.[1]

Fighting resumesEdit

The fortress of Ladoga was built in stone in the 12th century and rebuilt 400 years later.

The 12th century is poorly documented in Sweden, and Russian documents are fragmentary. From the surviving sources, however, it seems evident that the newly founded republic and Sweden drifted into hostilities that could not be permanently settled ever again.

According to the First Novgorod Chronicle, the Swedish troops attacked the Novgorod merchants somewhere in the Baltic Sea region and killed 150 Novgorodians in 1142. It is the first known case of hostilities between Sweden and Novgorod. In 1164, a strong Swedish fleet approached Ladoga but was soundly defeated with most of its ships captured by Novgorod.[2]

According to Swedish sources, the Novgorodians and their Karelian allies launched pirate raids against mainland Sweden during the 12th century.[3] During one of such raid, they brought to Novgorod the doors of the Sigtuna cathedral as loot. In the eyes of the northern crusaders, such actions justified war against Novgorod,[4] although Novgorodian sources do not mention these events. Swedish sources refer to the attackers of Sigtuna as "heathens". Swedish sources also document that Jon jarl spent nine years fighting against Novgorodians and Ingrians at the end of the 12th century.[5] These expeditions are not documented in Russian sources.

Battle of the NevaEdit

After a long pause in open hostilities, Swedes purportedly undertook an attack against Novgorod in 1240. The only source of information on the attack is a Novgorodian chronicle.[6][7][8] Soon after their fleet entered the mouth of the Neva River, the Swedes were roundly defeated in the Battle of the Neva by a young prince, Alexander of Novgorod, who would later be given the epithet "Nevsky" to memorialize this victory.

From then on, Sweden moved its interest to Finland. Its troops did not return to Neva before the end of the 13th century, when it had gained somekind of hold of Western Finland. Earlier, Swedes had also tried to establish a bridgehead in Estonia, in vain.

Focus moves to FinlandEdit

Apart from Ladoga, Novgorodian interests clashed with Sweden's in Finland, a region between Sweden and Russia which Russian forces sacked on numerous occasions from the 11th century onward. The raid in the winter of 1226-1227 led to heavy losses on the Finnish side.[citation needed] A Finnish retaliatory raid against Ladoga in 1228 ended in defeat, contributing to the Finns' subjugation by the Catholic Swedes during the Second Swedish Crusade in 1249.[citation needed] Seven years later, the Novgorodians devastated Swedish Finland again.

Viborg Castle was founded by the Swedes in 1293

In 1293 the Swedes won a part of western Karelia and built the fortress of Viborg (Russian: Vyborg) there. This expedition has traditionally been dubbed as the Third Swedish Crusade. Seven years later, they founded the fortress of Landskrona in the mouth of the Neva, on the river Okhta, and ruined the Novgorod settlements on the Neva. Later that year, the Novgorod troops retaliated by destroying Landskrona.

In the early 14th century, military tensions escalated and the two powers were continually at war. In 1311, the Novgorodians devastated central Finland, where the Swedes had recently built a new castle.[citation needed] In response, a Swedish fleet embarked towards Ladoga and set that trade emporium on fire. Three years later, the Karelians' discontent with Novgorod's rule broke out into the open, as they killed Russian governors and sought help in Sweden. After several months of hostilities, Karelia submitted to Novgorod's authority again.[citation needed]

In 1318 Novgorod attacked Turku in southwestern Finland, burning the city and the cathedral as well as the episcopal castle in Kuusisto Castle.[citation needed] Four years later, they besieged Viborg and founded Oreshek, an important fortress dominating the entrance to Lake Ladoga.

Treaty of Nöteborg and its aftermathEdit

Oreshek, one of fortresses built by the Novgorodians to contain the Swedish expansion.

The first treaty concluded by the parties to the conflict was the Treaty of Nöteborg (August 12, 1323), followed by the Treaty of Novgorod between Novgorod and Norway in 1326. The treaties were expected to bring "eternal peace" to the region, but turned out to provide only a temporary palliative.

As early as 1328, Sweden was encouraging settlers to take over the northern coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, which was defined by the treaty as Novgorod's possession.[9] When Karelians rebelled against Novgorod in 1337, King Magnus Eriksson sent his troops in their support, managing to briefly occupy Korela Fortress. Next year, Novgorod besieged Viborg but an armistice was soon agreed upon.

After ten years of peace, the king felt ready to renew hostilities and demanded the Novgorodians to recognise the pope's authority. According to the Novgorodian First and Fourth chronicles, the king demanded that the Novgorodians debate with his "philosophers" (Catholic theologians) and whoever lost would convert to the religion of the winner. Novgorodian archbishop Vasily Kalika conferred with the posadnik and other members of the city's elite and told the king that, since they had received Christianity from Constantinople, he should send his philosophers there to debate with the Byzantines.[10] Having received such a response, the king sent his army to Oreshek and set it ablaze. Novgorod soon recovered the lost ground.[11]

The king attempted yet another fruitless attack in 1350. In the same year, the Black Death broke out in Northern Europe, effectively ending further hostilities.[12]

Later developmentsEdit

Later skirmishes were more sporadic. Sweden's attempts to control the Gulf of Bothnia provoked Novgorod to start construction of a castle near the Oulu River delta in the 1370s. Sweden replied by establishing their own castle nearby. Novgorod assaulted it in 1377, but was unable to take it. In the following year, Pope Gregory XI intervened and issued a crusade bull against Novgorod. Soon afterwards the Russians retreated from Ostrobothnia, leaving it for the Swedes.

In the late 14th century, the Novgorodians set up the fiefs of Korela, Oreshek, Koporye, Luga, and Ladoga as a sort of buffer state between their core dominions and Sweden. Several Lithuanian dukes renowned for their military skills were invited to rule this Ingrian duchy; Narimantas, his son Patrikas, and then Lengvenis. They helped fortify the Novgorodian-Swedish border and built several new forts in the region, including one in Yama.

Hostilities between the two powers were renewed in 1392 and 1411. However, Sweden had, by then, become a member state in the quarrelsome Union of Kalmar, and was preoccupied by the Scandinavian power struggle for the entire 15th century. The last conflict took place in 1445, several decades before Novgorod was absorbed into Muscovy. Novgorod's demise did not result in peace, however, and conflict continued between the Grand Duchy of Moscow (later known as the Tsardom of Russia) and Sweden until the early 19th century.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ For example: Christiansen, Eric (1997). The Northern Crusades. Penguin UK. ISBN 9780141937366. Retrieved 2016-07-10. [...] [ William of Sabina ] [...] in 1237, as the agent of Gregory IX, [...] began organizing a crusade of Latin powers against Novgorod. [...] [I]t was not until 1240 that Gregory's crusade got under way, with the Swedish raid up the Neva and the conquest of Izborsk and Pskov by the Danes and the Teutonic Order [...].
  2. ^ The Novgorod "Karamzin's" Annals, the Full Collection of Russian Annals, vol. 42, St.-Petersburg 2002. See also online descriptions for "1142". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. and "1164". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. attacks, as hosted by the National Archive of Finland; in Swedish. 60 and 55 ships battled, respectively. The maximum capacity of the ledung has been calculated to around 280 ships. Of this only a quarter was usually mobilized at any one time, which brings the expected figures close to what chronicles claimed. Number of men in such a fleet would have been around 2500. See Jokipii, Mauno: The ledung institution - the instrument of Scandinavian crusades. Published in Suomen museo 2002 (ISBN 951-9057-47-1), page 85.
  3. ^ Article about Sigtuna raid by Vokrug Sveta. In Russian
  4. ^ Ibid.
  5. ^ Suomen museo 2002. See page 65.
  6. ^ The attack has been speculated to have been led by Birger Magnusson, who was elevated to the position of jarl in 1248. The only enemy leader named by the chronicle was "Spiridon" who was killed in the battle. Attempts to identify Spiridon with Birger have been made. The chronicle also claims that a bishop accompanying the army was killed; however, no Swedish bishop is known to have died in 1240.
  7. ^ "related chronicle entry". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.
  8. ^ See e.g. Riasanovsky, Nicholas V.: A History of Russia. Oxford 1993
  9. ^ Vahtola, Jouko. Tornionlaakson historia I. Birkarlit, 'pirkkalaiset'. Malungs boktryckeri AB. Malung, Sweden. 1991.
  10. ^ Arsenii Nikolaevich Nasonov, ed. Novgorodskaia pervaia letopis: starshego i mladshego izvodov, Moscow and Leningrad, 1950. p.359.Novgorodskaia chetvertaia letopis in Polnoe Sobranie Russkikh Letopisei, vol. 4. Moscow, 2000. p. 276; Michael C. Paul, "Archbishop Vasilii Kalika of Novgorod, the Fortress of Orekhov, and the Defense of Orthodoxy," in Alan V. Murray, ed., The Clash of Cultures on the Medieval Baltic Frontier (Farnham, UK and Burnlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 266.
  11. ^ Paul, "Archbishop Vasilii Kalika of Novgorod," 253-271.
  12. ^ Kari, Risto: Suomalaisten keskiaika, 2004. ISBN 951-0-28321-5. See page 163; Paul, "Archbishop Vasilii Kalika of Novgorod," 266-269.

Further readingEdit