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The Religious Orders of Knighthood in Medieval Scandinavia: Historical and Archaeological Approaches

Christer Carlsson

Crusades, Vol.5 (2006)

Introduction: In 1204, when the crusader army was standing at the gates of Constantinople, Scandinavia was still a remote part of medieval Europe. However, when the news of the fall of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade reached Scandinavia the concept of crusading was nothing new for the population. It is likely that at least some Scandinavians were in the armies that were sent from western Europe to Jerusalem during the First Crusade. Other crusading armies had probably been sent to Finland by the Swedish kings as early as the 1150s, and in 1201, only a few years before the attack on Constantinople, German crusaders started a colonizing project in what is now the Riga area in Latvia. Even the Danish kings were interested in taking part in this Baltic crusading enterprise. These Swedish, Danish and German campaigns quickly expanded the frontiers of Latin Christianity into Baltic area.

Early on in the German crusading-campaign in the Baltic region the Order of the Sword-brothers played an important role. Religious orders of Knighthood such as the Sword-brothers were, however, rather new elements in the religious life of early thirteenth-century Scandinavia. Even if the various Orders of Knighthood reached Scandinavia somewhat later than most of the Christian civilization they soon became important religious institutions in Scandinavian societies in the same way as they already were in the rest of western Europe. Even if the Order of Sword-brothers probably never controlled any land of its own in Scandinavia, other and similar orders certainly did so.

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