Siege on Otepää

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March 1217

After the raid by Germans and Ugaunians, princes of Novgorod and Pihkva understood what kind of a threat the German crusaders posed. Pihkva Vladimir became the engine of the anti-German campaign, pulling along the army of Novgorod.

Mstislav Udavoy, the prince of Novgorod, had began to pursue his personal interests in the south, and basically did not interfere in the dealings of Novgorod. Alliance against the Germans was also sought among the Estonians, first ones to ally themselves with the Russians were the Oeselians, later Harrien and then Saccalians, who became traitors in the eyes of the Germans, because they had been christened. Their large army headed to Otepää, to siege the most important German stronghold in Estonia. The fort was well defended, and the siege lasted for 17 days.

Meanwhile, additional German forces arrived from Riga and attackers had to fight them. Joint army did gain access to the fort, but with great losses. The situation inside the fort was very miserable, and three days after the additional forces had arrived, negotiations began. According to the deal, Germans had to pull out from Otepää and all of Estonia; this was the greatest defeat of the Germans in the Baltic Crusade. Bishop Albert sent his ambassadors to both Saccalia and Novgorod, to confirm the peace, but both Estonians and Russians were more interested in developing the achieved success further, and Albert's offer was dismissed. Henrik describes the Estonians and Russians in his chronicle as being "full of loftiness, and too insolent in their arrogance". Russians, and especially Estonians were indeed beginning to overrate their strength. Bishop Albert, on the other hand, traveled to Germany and stayed there for two years, recruiting new crusaders and creating useful diplomatic ties.

Image: bishop Albert on a coin dedicated to the 800 anniversary of Riga.

Source: Ain Mäesalu, Tõnis Lukas, Mati Laur, Tõnu Tannberg. Eesti ajalugu I. Avita: Tallinn 1995;

Sulev Vahtre. Muinasaja loojang Eestis. Vabadusvõitlus 1208-1227. Olion: Tallinn 1990

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