Over the years I have spent researching Late Medieval Central Europe, I ran across many unfamiliar words which were either academic terms of art or important jargon from the era.  Along the way I composed a glossary for myself to help navigate this strange world, and I added it to my Baltic Book. Since few people ever get to see my Baltic book I’ve brought the list here to HROARR as an aid to HEMA researchers.

This is an ever-evolving glossary and I welcome corrections, and suggestions for new terms that should be added, please feel free to comment below the article or contact me privately if your prefer. The glossary defines terms on the basis of the year 1450 (i.e. roughly in the time of Talhoffer) and with a focus on North Eastern Europe.

This being a book about the middle ages, many of these terms and concepts are closely linked to many others, so where this was the case I tried to show those links. In some cases you end up reading 5 or 6 related entries to get a solid idea of what a new term actually means. Also please note, these are very short explanations and many of these terms and ideas are covered in more detail in other sections of the book.

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Amber Road

A series of roads, trails, and portages leading from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, which was associated with the trade of Amber from at least Roman times.  In the 15th Century the Amber road was both symbolic of the overland trade links between the Baltic region and the Mediterranean, and also remained a functioning travel corridor, though the majority of European trade had shifted to ocean-going ships and riverine boats and barges.

Alderman

An elder leader of a district in a town, typically a senior member of one of the craft guilds. Acting as both political and military leaders, aldermen also played a role as judges.

Arbalest

A very powerful type of crossbow, usually spanned with a mechanical device called a cranequin. Expensive, highly accurate, and equivalent in power to a firearm. Crossbows of this type no longer exist except as antiques.

Allodial

A type of land ownership that is independent of any Feudal lord, community, or State. Most princes in Central Europe held allodial title to their own land, as did some lesser nobles. Many Free Cities and City-States also effectively had alloidal title to their land, though in some cases they owed technical fealty to a prince such as a King or Emperor, this was often unenforceable in practice. Many estates and individuals with immediacy had allodial title to their land generally speaking.

Arquebus

A generic term for a fairly broad category of handgun, like a a primitive carbine, usually matchlock and smooth bored. Roughly equivalent to a single shot shotgun firing slugs, and arquebus was generally not as powerful as a musket.

Artisan

Called handwerker in German. a common worker typically in the manufacturing industry, who could also typically be a workshop owner. Generally refers to craft industry workers (or worker-owners) who were usually members of the urban craft guilds.

Baltic

Can refer to the Baltic sea, to the people native of the southern shore of the Baltic (such as Estonians, Livonians, Prussians, Latvians, Curonians, Samogitiains and Lithuanians, among others) and to the Latinized city states and petty kingdoms which surround the Baltic sea, especially along the southern Baltic shore.

Bohemia

A northern European Kingdom which was the Homeland of the Czechs and part of the Holy Roman Empire, situated in North Central Europe between Poland, Germany, and Hungary. Roughly corresponds to the modern day Czech Republic. The name Bohemia derives from the Boii, a Celtic tribe who inhabited the region during Roman times.  Populated mostly by West-Slavs, with substantial minorities of Germans, Flemish and others, Bohemia was surrounded by mountain ranges which helped keep the Kingdom relatively free of foreign invasions during the Middle Ages, with the notable exception of the Hussite Crusades.

Burgher

Also burger.  May refer either simply to any city-dweller, or more specifically to members of the artisan or merchant patrician class in the cities.  Technically refers to anyone who holds full citizenship in a town including craft artisans and those with partial citizenship such as journeymen.  Sometimes the term is used more broadly to include all residents of a town as well as citizens.

Burgess

A town-dweller, usually means a prominent citizen in a high political position, typically a land owner and often a merchant patrician or guild alderman. Burgesses in patrician towns and territorial towns were elite members of the citizenry who had a say in town affairs. In guild controlled towns a larger proportion of the citizenry had political rights and this term (or equivalent) wasn’t as heavily emphasized.

Burgomeister

Roughly the equivalent to the mayor of a town or city, usually one of several especially in larger towns which had multiple municipalities. Acting as both a political and military leader, burgomeisters normally held office for a limited time period and ruled in conjunction with the town council (Ratzherren to the Germans).

Byzantine

A once mighty state, comprising the former Eastern Roman Empire, called itself Roman but it was culturally Greek. Technologically and culturally very sophisticated, the Byzantines were under great military pressure throughout the medieval period, mainly from the Turks but also from Latin forces. In the 13th Century the mighty capitol of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople, was overrun by Latin forces led by Venice during the 4th Crusade. Though it recovered, pressure from the Turks and tension with the Latin West continued to weaken the Byzantine State, and in 1453 it was largely overrun for good by the Ottoman Turks and the Byzantine ‘Empire’ was reduced to a small remnant centered in the Black Sea town of Trebizond.

Caffa

A large city-state in the Crimean peninsula. Caffa (now called Feodosia) was a major center of the brutal Mongol slave trade in Central Asia, and during most of the medieval period it was under the control of the Venetians or Genoese. In the 15th Century Caffa was under the control of the Genoese, though it was captured by the Ottomans in the late 15th Century.

Cranequin

A tool for spanning very powerful crossbows (see arbalest), also known as the ‘German winder’, it is a reduction gear device similar to the jack for changing the tire on a car.

Chełmno

An important city in Prussia on the Vistula River, known as Kulm to the Germans.  Part of the Prussian Confederation.

Commune

Legal term for an estate whose members have sworn allegiance for mutual defense. Communes also ensured the safety on the roads (Landfriede) through their territory, in order to enable commerce in the district. Most communes were urban in nature and represented a town or a market village district, and formed the legal basis for medieval towns, though some were rural. They were roughly analogous to counties in the modern United States in terms of size, though the term has more specific legal and political significance.

A county was technically the territory of a count, while a commune was the territory of its own population. Self-managed rural communes were sometimes called Landgemeinde. Unrelated to groups of hippies in the 1960s.

Condottieri

Italian term which literally meant ‘contractor’, used to refer to mercenary captains from throughout Europe. A condottiero may have controlled as few as a couple dozen men to as many as 5,000 or more. Condottieri typically armed and recruited their own men.

Constaffler

Roughly the urban equivalent of a knight. Constaffler (sometimes spelled konstafler) was one of many terms to describe members of special associations of the urban elite, usually merchants but also craft guild aldermen and other prominent citizens, who fought in the town militia as heavy cavalry like aristocratic knights.  Constafler were obligated to own armor and warhorses, and had to go to muster with a number of attendants. Many of them were in fact knighted, even though most were technically commoners.

Cossacks

Brigands or bandits formed from bands of runaway slaves and serfs, they created a unique culture all their own and specialized in defeating the Mongols and Turks on the fringes of Europe. Most were ethnic Ruthenians, from what are now Ukraine and Belarus, based on the Dnieper and Don rivers starting in the 15th Century, others  were from many other different ethnic groups. They were strategically important enemies of the Tartars and Turks.

Crimea

A region south of Russian and the Ukraine down to the northern coast of the Black Sea. During the mid 15th Century the northern Crimea was mostly controlled by the Crimean Horde of Tartars, though the southern part of the Crimean Peninsula itself was primarily under the control of heavily fortified European trade colonies, specifically from the City-State of Genoa in Italy.

Crimean Horde

A Mongol horde occupying much of the southern Ukraine and the Crimea, also known as the Crim Tartars or the Krim Tartars.  The Crimean Horde was a splinter group which split from the Golden Horde in the early 15th Century, they often raided deep into Poland and Prussia and remained a significant threat in Eastern Europe long after the power of the Golden Horde faded.

Crim Tartars

Another name for the Crimean Horde.

Culmerland

Region of Prussia surrounding the towns of Torun and Chelmno. Conquered by the Poles during the early Baltic Crusades, Chelmnoland  was later annexed by the Teutonic Knights, ultimately leading to tensions between the Poles and the Teutonic Order.

Curonian

Refered to a specific clan or ethnic group in the region of what is now Western Latvia and Lithuania, also refers to the region itself (Curonia). These people are also sometimes referred to as Kurs. The Curonians were a seagoing people who had a reputation as one of the more warlike tribes in the Baltic going back to Viking times. They conducted raids similar to Viking raids, at one point devastating much of the Eastern part of Denmark. They were allied with the Oesielians and were sometimes rivals of the Samogitians.  The Curonians were active in attacks on Riga in the 13th Century and in the Saint George’s night uprising of the mid-14th Century. Since their territory was conquered by the Livonian knights and Danish crusaders in the mid-14th Century many surviving Curonians relocated deeper into Lithuania.

Danzig

The German name for the Hanseatic trading city and Prussian Free City called Gdansk by the Poles, and also known by many other variations of that name. In the 15th Century Danzig was the largest city in Prussia and the leader of the Prussian Confederation, By Late medieval standards Danzig was a medium sized, heavily fortified town of about 25,000 people. Situated on the Baltic coast in the delta of the Vistula River, Danzig was an important trading city.  As the leader of the Prussian Circle, Danzig led the war effort during the 13 Years War against the Teutonic Knights.  Danzig was also a key member of the Hanseatic League, and exerted its own assertive foreign policy in the Baltic and throughout Prussia, and well beyond – as far as England, France and Spain.

Diet

A diet is an assembly of local power brokers in a given region or district, usually made up of members of at least two estates, often more. It’s similar to a parliament except that it is not necessarily presided over by any higher authority.  A variety of specific types of diets were found around Central and Northern Europe including the German landgemeinde, the Slavic veche, the Norse thing, the Lithunaian laukas, the inter-urban Städtebund, the regional landfrieden like the Livonian Confederation, and the national parliaments such as the reichtag of the Holy Roman Empire, the sejm of Poland, and the riksdag of the Kingdom of Sweden.

Diets did not remain in session continuously and in fact usually only met on a sporadic basis, typically during some crisis such as an interregnum, a war, when ratifying a treaty or in order to establish new laws. However taxes, laws, criminal and civil courts and even constabularies set up by a diet and administered on behalf of its members could remain active indefinitely.

DiendeBrudern

A lower ranking member of the Teutonic Order, typically a person of common birth, DiendeBrudern could be local administrators or military leaders especially of infantry levies. DiendeBrudern wore a gray habit with a Tau (T shaped) cross.

Dobrzyń Land

A region in Prussia East of the Vistula River, adjacent to Chelmnoland.  The control of Dobrzyń Land was the cause of wars between Poland and the Teutonic Order during the 14th Century.  In the mid-15th Century it was part of the territory of the Prussian Confederation.

Dorpat

A major city in Livonia (today Tartu, Estonia), location of the regional Bishopric, member of the Hanseatic League.  Also part of the Livonian Confederation.

Elbląg

Polish spelling for the Prussian city the Germans call Elbing.

Elbing

An important Free City in Prussia, known to the Poles as Elbląg.  A medium sized town, it was a key member of the Prussian Confederation and a member of the Hanseatic League. Elbing was the second largest city in Prussia, and was relatively international in character. It had a large population of English and Scottish merchants, as well as Italians, Hungarians, Russians and Jewish people.

Esquire

Technically a squire or a junior grade knight, but in practice in the Late Medieval period it often meant something more specific. Burghers, university professors, courtiers, civil servants, mercenaries and other people from non-noble estates who wanted the legal and social rights associated with knighthood were routinely knighted. The rank of squire or esquire held most of the perquisites of knightly rank but with fewer of the obligations for militia muster or related taxes. By the 15th Century more people held the title of esquire than knight, and the rank was considered roughly equivalent.

Estate

A complex and very important legal concept in medieval Europe. The term estate can refer to real estate in the modern sense, or to the parcel of land and tenants belonging to a noble, but in a medieval context most often means one of the social categories of society in the sense of the Three Estates of France or the Four Estates of Sweden.

More literally estate meant a body of rights and responsibilities which defined the social and political role of any individual or group of people – who could be of any class or social standing, but typically these included the burghers or town dwellers, the lower aristocracy, the prominent leaders of the Church (prelates), the upper aristocracy, and sometimes the peasantry (especially leaders of powerful clans or families).

Estate can also refer to alliances or confederations of individuals who hold the same estate status, such as estates of the gentry, or a coalition of different estates within a given region, such as the estates of Silesia.

Estates

Estates is the plural of Estate, but this term was often used as a euphemism to refer to a diet a local or regional assembly of the various estates in the area. When you hear for example of the Prussian estates or the Pomeranian estates, this typically refers to the gentry, prelates, and towns, and any other powerful factions in the area. Who this meant exactly varied widely by region. In some areas the “estates” were weak compared to the central authority, usually a prince or a powerful prelate, in others, it was the reverse and the estates themselves held the real power.

The estates in plural could be made up of shifting coalitions of different factions each based on a specific estate such as the peasants, the gentry, the burghers, the clerics and so on. There were national diets such as the Reichstag of the Holy Roman Empire but more often, local Landfrieden (or the equivalent) were the political domain of the estates.

Estonian

People native to the Northeast Baltic, in the area also known as Livonia, said to be descended from the Aesti. Their language is related to that of the Finns.  Curonians are also ethnic Estonian.

Free City

Also known as a Free Town, this was a town or city which had achieved total independence, a more complete degree of autonomy than a Free Imperial or Royal City. Usually this occurred after the town forcibly evicted its overlord. Free Cities owed only nominal fealty to the King or Emperor and payed no taxes. These towns existed either within the Holy Roman Empire or in those other parts of Central or Eastern Europe under German Town Law. Danzig, Cologne, Hamburg, Tabor, Bremen, Basel, Worms, Toul, Verdun, Besancon, Speyer, and Strasbourg were examples of some of the Free Cities in Central Europe in 1456.

Free Imperial City / Royal Free City

A Free City owing fealty only to the (Holy Roman) Emperor or the King with the same status of “Imperial Immediacy” that a Prince had. This includesd the payment of nominal taxes or duties to the Emperor and usually an agreement to supply troops in wartime, but also meant local autonomy for the city. There were over 100 Imperial Free Cities (Reichsstädte) in the Holy Roman Empire in 1456, and about 70 which held a similar status in Prussia, Livonia, Poland, Hungary, Silesia and Bohemia.

Folwark

Very large plantations or farms owned by powerful Lords in Prussia, Poland, and Lithuania, worked by large numbers of serfs, usually foreigners from Ukraine or other places.  Based on the Roman Latifundia. Equivalent in many respects to a large slave plantation in the Americas or Carribean in the 18th or 19th Centuries.

Gdansk

The Polish name for the Prussian city called Danzig by the Germans. See the entry on Danzig for more.

Gentry

Polish ziemiane. Could mean many things but in this document typically refers to small land owners in a particular region. The gentry could include petty aristocrats and knights, as well as wealthy peasants, burghers, and members of the clergy. The gentry often fought as knights or heavy cavalry in warfare and they overlapped with the aristocratic knightly class.

Germany

Though technically there was a ‘Kingdom’ of Germany, in reality it was not a country during the 15th Century; Germany was a region, much as one might today refer to Appalachia or New England as a region.  Most of Germany was under the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor who was also typically elected “King of the Germans”. In the 15th Century ethnic Germans spoke a variety of similar but distinct german dialects including Middle Low-German (which is the most common the Baltic region as the lingua franca of the Hanseatic League), as well as Middle High German, Swabian, various dialects of the Rhineland (Rhenish), and Franconian, as well as several non germanic Languages like Polish, Czech, French, Latin and Hungarian.

German Town Law

The charter of a city, according to a legal contract (Handfeste) by which towns held varying degrees of autonomy, usually at a minimum the right to hold a market and a right to be administered by a council of it’s own citizens. German Town Law was used throughout Central, Northern, and Eastern Europe. Town law came in several different formats, specific examples in the Baltic region included Lübeck Law (which conferred the most autonomy and the largest number of rights), Magdeburg Law, and Kulm Law. German Town Law was the basis for the government of most towns in Central and Northern Europe, including in Poland, Bohemia, Silesia, Sweden, Finland, Livonia and Prussia. Many rural villages particularly in Prussia and within the territory of the Teutonic Order were also governed by Kulm Law.

Towns and villages which had a town charter or handfeste had more rights and freedoms than those which did not. They usually treated the document itself as a sacred object and kept it carefully guarded.

Grunwald

Name of a small village where the Teutonic Order lost a major battle in 1410 AD.  This is also referred to as the battle of Tannenburg.

Golden Horde

The largest Mongol Horde in the general vicinity of the Baltic in the late medieval period. The Tartars of the Golden Horde were the overlords of most of Russia, with the exception of the city-states of Veliky Novgorod, Pskov, and Tver. The term Golden came from association with the Golden family whose members ruled the horde, Mongols descended directly from Genghis Khan.

Gotland

A large island off the coast of Sweden which has long been a major trading zone in the Baltic. Once the location of the old Viking trading center of Birka, in the medieval period it was the site of the important Hanseatic city of Wisby.  Gotland was also known as a haven for pirates, who controlled parts of the island notably during some periods in the 14th Century.

Grosskomptur

A high rank within the Teutonic Order, the Grosskomptur was the deputy of the Grand Master.

Großschäffer

A special office within the Teutonic Order, the Großschäffer was the senior trade representative of the Order and often acted as an ambassador to the Hanseatic League, the Kingdoms of England and France, the Duchy of Burgundy, and other kingdoms and trading entities.

Guild

Usually refers to a fraternal organization of craft artisans found in most towns, but ‘guild’ can also mean merchant guilds, shooting or fencing guilds, religious or carnival confraternities or sodalities, or other types of guilds. A craft guild operated as a combination of a labor union and a co-op business, and they were usually though not always organized along the industrial lines; weaving, sword making, brewing, etc.  In the 15th Century craft guilds had substantial political as well as economic importance, and they were also the basis for military units in the town militias.

HalbBrudern

Singular Halbbruder. Could be thought of as ‘associate members’ of the Teutonic or Livonian Order. These men were often foreign or local knights who took a temporary Crusading vow or were summoned as vassals to the Order, and would fight with the Order for one or more raiding seasons. Like the DiendeBrudern, the HalbBrudern wore a gray habit or gambeson over their armor with a Tau (‘T’ shaped) cross.

Hanse / Hansa

Derived from Old High German meaning military troop, it originally referred to temporary or permanent merchant guilds organized for mutual defense in the early medieval period, sometimes for a single voyage, sometims on an ongoing basis. In the 15th Century hanse is shorthand for hanseatic, as in the Hanseatic League, which at that time was a loose though powerful association or cartel of merchantile cities.

Hanseatic League

A powerful but informal international cartel of merchant cities in several countries across Northern Europe. Originally the Hanseatic League was an international organization of merchants, but by the late medieval period it became an organization of powerful towns linked together by trade, and culturally German.

In the mid-15th Century the Hanseatic League was divided into 9 ‘circles’: the Netherlands Circle, the Westphalian Circle, the Saxon Circle, the Wendish Circle, the Margravian Circle, the Pomeranian Circle, the Prussian Circle, the Livonian Circle, and the Swedish Circle. The center and nominal leader of the Hansa was the German town of Lübeck, but each circle and individual town exercised its own foreign policy.

Hellweg

Hellweg, or helwech in Low German, literally means the ‘bright way’. It was one of the German terms used for major roads maintained by towns, prelates or princes. By German common law they were required to be an unimpeded passageway a lance’s width, or about three meters wide.  These were maintained by local powers as part of the Landsfrieden.

Herzog

A rank of the high nobility in Bavaria, traditionally equivalent to an English Duke. Back in pre-Christian times a Herzog was an elected war leader but the position eventually became hereditary. The Herzog of Bavaria was a powerful prince.

High Middle Ages

The High Middle Ages represents the first really significant economic, cultural and technological boom period of the European medieval world, and very generally refers to the times between the 11th and 13th Centuries. What qualifies as High Medieval also varies somewhat by region, as for example Northern Italy entered the High Medieval period before France did. The High Middle Ages were characterized by a major population boom as well as rapid technological and economic development, and the first significant surge of urbanization in Europe since the decline of the Roman Empire.

Hofmesiter

Could mean the ruler of a castle on behalf of a prince, similar to a vogt. Increasingly in the 15th Century it came to mean a member of the princely staff or court, usually the right hand man or aide de camp of a prince or prelate. It also carried a meaning of a tutor of royal or princely children.

Holy Roman Empire

A large “mostly” German nation in Central Europe technically ruled by an Emperor elected by seven German Princes.  The Holy Roman Empire very loosely controlled most of Central Europe including what are today Germany as well as most of modern day Austria and the Czech Republic, and parts of what are now Poland, Belgium, Holland and Eastern France. The Empire was relatively decentralized and the Emperor had a very limited degree of control over the realm, though it was still one of the most powerful and wealthy nations in Europe in the 15th Century.

HRE

Short for Holy Roman Empire.

Horde

A regional military and administrative grouping of Mongols, such as the Golden Horde.  These typically included nomadic people of many ethnic groups, mostly Central Asian but also European, South Asian, East Asian and others, all organized under the rulership of the “Golden” Mongol families descended from the days of Ghenghiz Khan.

Hussite

Members of an heretical Catholic religious sect in Bohemia, closely associated with some groups of Czech mercenaries and also with the use of the Tábor war wagon.  Considered by some modern historians to be ‘proto-protestant’ though they differed in some important respects from Lutherans and Calvinists etc. who came 100 years later.

Immediacy

Called Reichsfreiheit or Reichsunmittelbarkeit by the Germans.  Special legal and political status which meant that the individual, entity or estate in question owed direct fealty to the King or the Emperor but to no other entity. This effectively meant they were outside of the Feudal system, and immune from most political obligations. Free-Cities (Immediatstädt – with 50 represented in the Imperial Diet) the seven Prince Electors and the most powerful princes, (Reichsfürst 100 represented in the Imperial Diet) had the status of Immediacy, as did Free Imperial Knights (Reichsritter) as well as many prince-prelates (with 40 represented in the Diet), and some abbeys and Church districts.

Immediatstädt

German legal term for a Free Imperial City.

Jutland

The peninsula which comprises a large part of Denmark, and forms part the barrier between the North Sea and the Baltic, also known as the Cimbrian peninsula.

Kalmar Union

Another name for the Nordic Union, the personal union between the royal houses of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, controlled by the Danish royal family, but increasingly contested in the 15th Century by Swedish and Norwegian nobles and peasants.

Kanzler

A specific rank within the Teutonic Knights, (Chancelor) was the chief administrative assistant to the Grand Master or one of the regional Duetschmeister’s of the Teutonic Order.

Knight

A person with a special status as a member of the warrior caste in medieval society.  Most knights were from the lower ranks of the nobility, but some were serfs (ministeriales), others were burghers (see also constaffler) and some few were princes. Most high ranking princes and some prelates were also knights, though very few knights were princes. Knights were allowed to wear a special belt and spurs, representing their unique legal and social status in which a person’s honor carried legal weight. Not all knights were warriors, but those who were typically acted as leaders in battle and fought in command of a team of heavy cavalry.

Komptur

A Teutonic Knight, regional commander of the Teutonic Order, typically in charge of a town or a large castle.

Königsberg

A large city in East Prussia which is a major power center of the Teutonic Order. Königsberg was originally part of the Prussian Confederation but at the start of the war elected to remain loyal to the Teutonic Order after a brief civil war.

Kontor

A ‘counting house’ of the Hanseatic League, which acted as something like an embassy of the League as well as a trading post and a warehouse for trade goods in non-Hanse cities such as London, Bruges, Novgorod, and Bergen. The kontor also sometimes served as a court of law.

Konstafler

This was one of several names for societies of a type of armored heavy cavalryman similar to a knight but from the urban burgher class, usually patricians but sometimes also artisans.

Kulm

German name for the Prussian city called Chełmno by the Poles. It is in the district of Kulmerland or Chelmnoland in Prussia. The town charter of Kulm was the basis for the charters of dozens of other towns and villages in the Southern Baltic.

Kulmerland

A German term for Chelmnoland.

Lance

A type of spear for use primarily for thrusting rather than throwing, and primarily on horseback, quite often very long, between 12’ and 18’ in length, but they could also be as short as 8’ or less. This term also refers to a military unit consisting of a knight (or armored heavy cavalryman) on an armored horse and 3-5 more lightly armored horsemen.

Landfrieden

A political union between the estates of a given region which lacks a strong central authority, often though not always dominated by towns. Landfrieden (landfrýdy in Czech) consisted of the nobility, church leaders (prelates) and towns in some type of council or Diet, which in turn appointed “justices of the peace of the roads”.  These men collectively enforced the freedom or “peace” of the roads, punishing bandits, robber knights and other malefactors whose activities disrupted public commerce.

Landmeister

A specific rank within the Teutonic Order, a regional commander just below the Grand Master (Hochmeister) in rank. There were three Landmeisters at all times: one for Prussia, one for Livonia, and one for the Holy Roman Empire 9called the ‘Deuschmeister’). The Landmeister worked closely with the Grand Master and had military, diplomatic and administrative roles.

Landsgemeinde

A special type of Diet organized in autonomous regions, usually rural in nature though they could also include some towns. Examples included the rural Cantons of the Swiss Confederation, the autonomous parts of the Tyrol, rural districts in Sweden and Finland, the Frisian marshlands of the North Sea such as the Dithmarschen, and the independent district of Samogitia in Lithuania.

Latin

Refers both to the Latin language derived from the Romans, and to the regions of Europe including Central and Western Europe under the unifying cultural influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Medieval Europe was split into a large Latin zone, a smaller but still large Greek-influenced zone, a small and shrinking pagan zone, and a small but growing Muslim zone.

Latin was the international language of the Church and nobility, and the administrative staff of the princes, prelates and kings. Those who could read and write in Latin considered themselves the truly literate, as distinct from people who were merely literate in the vernacular.

Late Middle Ages

Also late medieval. Very generally refers to the period roughly from the 14th Century through the early 16th Century, though different definitions of this period are used by different scholars. Though the early part of the Late Medieval period, particularly in the first half of the 14th Century was characterized by numerous brutal catastrophies (especially the onset of the Black Death) the second part of this period saw a rapid acceleration of technological, cultural and economic development through much of Europe, as well as a resurgence of urbanization in many areas. Urban zones included Northern Italy, the Low Countries in what are now Belgium and Holland, parts of the the Rhineland and Southern Germany, Catalonia, and closer to the Baltic, the North Sea and Baltic Coasts of Germany, Bohemia, Lusatia, and Prussia.

Laukas

A form of rural assembly in Lithuania and some of the other Baltic nations, similar to the Norse Thing, the German Landsgemeinde, the Russian veche, the Polish Sejmik, the Cossack’s Sich Rada, etc. These were the old tribal assemblies where the rural people would vote on policy and / or approve or disapprove of the proposed actions of their aristocratic leaders. A remnant of an older form of tribal democracy which persisted in some areas into prehistoric times. By the Late Medieval period the Laukas was only semi-autonomous in a lot of Lithuania, with the exception of Samogitia where the old clan based self-government remaind in place.

Liechtenauer Society

(Geselschaft Liechtenauers, literally Liechtenauers guild) is a list of eighteen fencing masters found in the introduction to the CGM 1507, the most complete surviving copy of Paulus Kal’s 1460 fencing manual in which he described Johannes Liechtenauer as the “master of all pupils”.  Several of the Masters listed as members of the society such as Peter Von Danzig and Sigmund Ringeck went on to write influential martial arts manuals. The list of names included Jewish grappling masters, artisans, a cook, a priest, and a handful of knights.

Lithuanian

People of the powerful confederation of indigenous Baltic tribes who lived Northeast of Poland and West of Russia, in the 15th Century they were usually though not always allied with Poland. The Lithuanians were pagan through most of the medieval period and only converted to Christianity in the late 14th Century, though the Samogitians, who are a subgroup of Lithuanians, remained pagan until 1413 AD.

Lipka Tartars

Tribes of Tartars who have settled in the forests of Eastern Lithuania (today Belarus) subsequent to the Lithuanian conquest of much of the Golden Horde in the 14th Century.  They often fought in alliance with the Lithuanian Grand Duke and sometimes the Polish King.

Livonia

A large region in the North-Eastern Baltic analogous to modern day Estonia and Latvia as well as parts of what are now Russia and Belarus, occupied by the Livonian Order. Several major Hanse towns were located here, including Riga, Dorpat, and Reval.  In the Late Medieval period Livonia was under the rule of the Livonian Order, and a complex network of organizations called Terra Mariana.

Livonian Confederation

The Livonian Confederation was a massive Landfrieden which governed Livonia, also known as Terra Mariana. It was ruled by a Diet called the Landtag, and enforced locally by the local powers of each district. The confederation was established after the Battle of Swienta in 1435 when the Livonian Order was badly defeated by the Lithuanian Grand Duke Sigismund Kestutatis, and no longer had the power to control all Livonia alone.  The confederation was made up of a combination of the Livonian Order with the Baltic Noble Corporations, the bishops and archbishops of Livonia, and the powerful Hanseatic trading towns of Riga, Dorpat and Reval.  Together they kept the peace in Livonia and fended off foreign enemies in their very dangerous Baltic neighborhood.

Livonian Order

Also known as the Livonian Knights, the Sword Brothers or the Livonian Brothers of the Sword.  A religious order of Knights similar to and allied with the Teutonic Order. The Livonian Order occupied the northern Baltic lands of Livonia or the Terra Mariana (‘land of Mary’) during the Northern Crusades in the 13th Century.  In the mid-15th Century they ruled over much of the region, governing the Estonian, Latvian and other indigenous Baltic people.  They shared power in Livonia with the Livonian Confederation.

Low Countries

Common euphemism for the many nations, city states and fiefdoms which existed in the lowland river delta regions of what is now Belgium, Holland, and Luxemburg, with some overlap into northern France and northern Germany.  During the 15th Century several of the largest and most economically powerful cities in Europe were in this zone, including Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels, Amsterdam, Liege, and Ypres. Prussian cities traded extensively with towns in the Low Countries, particularly Bruges which was closely linked to the Hanseatic League. Many cities in the Baltic and Western Slavic kingdoms like Bohemia were settled by people from the Low Countries, including both Flemish and French speakers.

Lübeck

The ‘Queen’ of the Hanseatic League, Lübeck was a major trading city in Northern Germany and one of the first Free Cities established in the Holy Roman Empire.  Citizens from Lübeck founded several towns in Prussia and immigrated to Danzig in large numbers in the 13th and 14th Centuries. Lübeck had an aggressive foreign policy and a very powerful navy, they did not hesitate to face down princes, even kings or emperors when they thought it was necessary.

Malbork

The principal castle of the Teutonic Order, located in the town of Marienburg. Malbork is also the Polish name of that town.

Magnate

Powerful aristocratic planters or ranchers in Poland or Lithuania, often members of the Senat, owners of massive farms called Folwark. Magnates were a type of Polish prince.

Marienburg

Aka city of St. Mary, an important trading city in Prussia where the Teutonic Knights castle of Malbork is located.

Matchlock

A system for firing a handgun, consisting of a lit slow-burning fuse (called a match) clamped to a device called a serpentine which touches the powder when a lever is pulled.  The matchlock replaced the touch-hole, allowing more efficient and accurate use of firearms, but it still required the maintenance of a lit match.  It would be replaced much later by the wheel-lock and then the flint lock, which generated sparks and did not require a match.

Masovia

Also called Mazovia. An important region in the Baltic which is today part of Eastern Poland and the district of the Polish Capital Warsaw. In the 15th Century Masovia was still an independent Duchy though closely linked with Poland.  Masovians are a distinct ethnic group within Poland, and the district is the location of some important Polish cities including Warsaw, Płock and Rawa Mazowiecka.

Mediatstädt

A town which is directly owned by a Lord, usually a prince or a prelate of the Church. These towns had less rights and independence than Free Cities but still had some autonaomy.

Middle Low-German

A Germanic trade dialect associated with the northern low-lands of Saxony and the river estuaries of northern Central Europe during the middle Ages. It overlaps to some extent with Dutch, Frisian and Flemish, and both contributes and borrows loan-words to English, the Scandinavian and Baltic Languages, and Estonian. Middle Low German is the lingua Franca of the Hanseatic League.

Middle High-German

A Germanic trade dialect common in Western and Southern reaches of the Holy Roman Empire, associated with Franconia and derived from the Carolingian Franks. High refers to the high-country, i.e. the foothills of the Alps, where the language was a lingua Franca.

Ministerial

A type of serf-knight or ‘unfree knight’ known mostly in the German-speaking parts of Central Europe. Also referred to administrative servants of the same kind of origin. In the High Middle Ages many princes armed and equipped their serfs as soldiers and some as cavalry.  Many of these were knighted even though they and their offspring still technically retained serf status. Many ministerials became functionaries, courtiers, or civil servants as well as soldiers. Over time ministerial families established themselves in the gentry and in some cases titled nobility.  By the 15th Century ministerial families made up a lot of the knightly class and were serfs in name only.  Though equivalent soldiers existed in other regions, the term ministerial is used almost exclusively in a German cultural context.

Mongol

A nomadic people from Eastern Siberia who conquered nearly all of Asia and parts of Eastern Europe.  Also refers to members of the Mongol Hordes which incorporated warriors of numerous other ethnicities, including Kipchaks, Cumans, Turks, Turkmen, Tatars, Pechenegs, Persians, Russians, Armenians, Georgians, Kazakhs, Punjabis and Mordvins, among others.

Moravia

A semi-autonomous region of the Kingdom of Bohemia with a mixed Czech / German / Slavonic population.  Moravia was governed by a landfrieden (German- also called landfrýdy in Czech) with a diet centered in the town of Brno. Many important mercenary captains and knights involved on both sides in the 13 Years War in Prussia came out of Moravia.

Moscow / Muscovy

Moscow, also known in the period as Muscovy, was the Russian city-state which emerged dominant in the brutal power struggles over control of the former Rus territories after their conquest by the Mongol’s in the 13th Century.  Though Moscow was not a significant Rus city-state prior to the Mongol invasion (probably no more than a hamlet at that time), it’s designation by the Mongol Golden Horde as the seat of tax collection for the province in the 14th Century gave it an advantage over rival Rus cities which formed the basis of it’s growing power.

In the late medieval period Moscow was still a satrap of the Golden Horde but was becoming increasingly independent and aggressive, in spite of the devastating crack-down by the Mongols after the temporary Russian victory in a rebellion in 1380. In the mid 15th Century Moscow was concentrating on controlling and taking over all the other rival Rus city-states, of which Veliky Novogord, Pskov and Tver were the only significant cities remaining.

Moscow fielded a formidable army and had great wealth due to her access to the Silk Road and control of fur trading regions in Siberia, which were connected to Latin Europe via the Hanseatic league, mostly through Veliky Novgorod. In the 1450’s Moscow was consolidating power and building up the state which would eventually become the Russian Empire.

Münzmeister

An important rank and special office within the Teutonic Knights. The Münzmeister was the master of the mint, traditionally based in Thorn / Torun, but since the start of the rebellion in 1454 he would be located in Marienburg or Konigsburg. The Teutonic Order issued its own well-regarded currency notably the Prussian schilling, ‘Moneta Dominorum Prussiae – Schilingen’.

Nordic Union

The government of a technically united Scandinavia, under the rule of the King of Denmark, also known as the Kalmar Union. The ‘union’ was fragile and under dispute in the 15th Century as Denmark seeks to assert control over Sweden, and this is resisted by people in Sweden, as well as by peasants in Norway.

Ordensstaat

One of the names of the regime of the Teutonic Order which technically included both Prussia and Livonia.

Order of Dobrzyń

Also known as the Brothers of Dobrin. A small Polish Crusading Order similar to the Teutonic Knights, which was founded in the district of Dobrzyń in 1216 AD to fight off raids by pagan Prussians.  The Order of Dobrzyń protected Cistercian abbeys from Prussian raids but became part of the Teutonic Order in 1235 AD. 

Ostsiedlung

The Ostsiedlung is the modern historian’s term for a substantial wave of migration which brought German speaking (and English, Scots, Norse, Flemish, French and Frisian speaking) settlers into Eastern and Northern Europe throughout the high to late medieval period, from roughly 1100 – 1500 AD. German and Flemish  settlers in particular either founded or built-up many of the cities in Eastern Europe during this time and German, Flemish and other Latin settlers occupied many Eastern regions as well, bringing with them their law, language, and culture.

Ottoman

A powerful dynasty of Turks originating in Central Asia and by the 15th Century, based in Anatolia, in the process of expanding into Eastern Europe. In 1450’s they were ruled by Sultan Mehmet II ‘The Conqueror’. The Ottomans were the most powerful single State in the Western hemisphere in the 15th Century and their armies posed a direct existential threat to the Holy Roman Empire and especially to the Kingdoms of Austria and Hungary.

Palatinate

Refers to a territorial zone in several different nations, but in the Late medieval context most commonly refers to a district in the Rhineland what is now southwest Germany and Southeast France along the upper (Southern) Rhine river. The most important district in the territory politically is the Electoriate of the Palitnate, ruled by the count Palatinate of the Rhine, one of the seven prince electors of the Holy Roman Empire and typically a very powerful prince.

Patrician

A euphemism for a member of the wealthy urban merchant clans of the cities of medieval Europe. Technically patricians were commoners but many of them were extremely powerful and some were richer than kings. They were wealthy enough to buy titles from poorer noble families but when they did, they did not use their titles due to the political climate of the towns. The term patrician derives from the ancient Roman term for the political and social elite. Most patricians were merchants, some were rentiers or landowners in the city. Patricians tended to look down on nobles, who they considered uncouth. They also had a somewhat fraught relationship with the urban artisan working class, who were political rivals, and with the Church who generally speaking they saw as interfering in burgher rights or taking advantage of town policies.

Pfundmeister

As special office within the Teutonic Order, the Pfundmeister was the Customs master of Danzig, the pfund was a special tariff levied by the Order. After the 1454 uprising the pfundmeister was relocated to Konigsburg.

Pomerania

Region in the Baltic between the German state of Brandenburg and Prussia, ruled by the ‘Griffin Dukes’ as well as some  Free Cities and prelates of the Church.

Pomerelia

The region on the Baltic Coast East of Pomerania, North of Poland, analogous to Prussia.

Prelate

A church leader with secular authority over some kind of community or territorial area. A prelate is usually a bishop, archbishop, or abbot / abbess. Prleate’s wielded power in the real world as territorial rulers and in Central and Northern Europe they differed little from secular princes in many cases. Prelates typically had their own armies and castles.

Prince

A euphemism for powerful kings, dukes, counts, margraves and other high-ranking aristocrats who had significant territorial power. Secular princes held alloidal rights to their territory, meaning they controlled it free and clear without anyone or any institution having any other rights over their land. Many though by no means all princes also held the status of Royal or Imperial immediacy. Generally these were people who were not to be trifled with. Princes were major rural landowners; some were high ranking members of the clergy including abbots, bishops, and archbishops, often referred to as prince-prelates. Other than kings, popes and emperors, the most famous and powerful princes were the Prince Electors of the Holy Roman Empire. In Poland the most powerful princes were known as magnates.

Prince Elector

One of the seven powerful princes who had a vote in the election of the Holy Roman Emperor. Four of the Prince Electors or Kurfürst were bishops, two were counts, and one was the King of Bohemia (who had two votes). The Prince electors were among the most powerful Lords in Central Europe.

Prince-Prelate

A territorial church ruler (bishop, archbishop, cardinal or abbot / abbess) who had sufficient territorial power to also be called a prince. Though in theory beholden to the Vatican, many prince-prelates were just as independent (and could be just as ruthless) as the secular princes.

Prussia / Prussian

Can refer to the region of Prussia (also Pomerelia), to the native Prussian Language, to the native or “Old” Prussian people, or to the German dialect of townsfolk living in the district of Prussia who were mostly from German-speaking areas within the Holy Roman Empire. During the 15th Century the term Prussian was usually applied to German speakers from Prussia, while the term “Old Prussian” refered to the original native inhabitants of the region who spoke Baltic languages similar to Lithuanian. The region of Prussia a zone of the southern Baltic extending from Pomerania in the West to Samogitia in the east, centered on the Vistula river delta and the Vistula lagoon.

Prussian Confederation

A powerful alliance of 19 cities (led by Danzig) and 53 ‘great men’ (powerful figures from the patriciate, the aristocracy, and the Church) who joined together to end the rule of the Teutonic Order in Prussia, leading to the outbreak of what would later be called the 13 Years War in 1453.

Raubritter

Robber-Knight, also known as a “Robber Baron”. Usually petty warlords, members of the aristocracy or gentry who owned strongholds near rivers or roads used for trade, and used them as a means to rob travelers and merchants and / or levy fines on commercial travel in their districts, and then flee back to the safety of their stronghold before they faced retribution. Hundreds of castles of these knights were destroyed by Free Cities or princes in the 15th Century, and many robber knights were shot or hung, but the problem continued.

Rathaus

Ratuz in Polish. The town hall, usually a large, fortified building typically featuring a tower and often a clock.  Documents such as the town charter were kept there, and the town council met their regularly. The Rathaus was also usually where the town court was, and where the Schoffen met to decide legal cases.

Ratsherren

A member of the ruling town council. Usually very important individuals within town society. For a Free City or Free Imperial or Royal City, these people along with the burgomeisters were the government of the town and conducted diplomacy and foreign policy, led the town into war when necessary, and performed all the other tasks associated with governance and military leadership.

Reichsfürst

German term referring to an elite type of prince, meaning a powerful high-ranking aristocrat and territorial ruler who also had the legal status of Immediacy.

Reichsritter

Free Imperial Knights, usually members of the lower or middle aristocracy who enjoyed the legal status of Immediacy. Since 1422 they were organized as an estate within the Diet of the Holy Roman Empire. Many Reichsritter fought as mercenaries, some roamed the countryside as Knights Errant or Robber Knights. A few were at least locally powerful landowners within their home districts.

Reval

A Free and Hanseatic City in northern Livonia now known as Talinn, the Capitol of Estonia. Member of the Livonian Confederation.

Rezeß

Also Rezess. This was a special type of political compromise often associated with German towns. It usually represented some kind of power sharing arrangement between rival political factions within the town, such as between two patrician families or between the patricians and the craft guilds. The most famous Rezess familiar to English-speakers is probably the Rezess of Hamburg in 1410 which is considered the foundation of the Hamburg Republic and the establishment of the Hamburg Senat. The Rezess in its many forms was key to the continued independence and prosperity of the Royal and Imperial Free cities of Central Europe.

Residenz

The home base of a prince, literally ‘place of living’, meaning both their home and their seat of government or political capitol. Many were in large castles, some were in territorial towns (notably Munich, the Rezidenz of the Herzog of Bavaria, or Berlin, Rezidenz of the Elector of Brandneburg), some were in Free or Imperial cities which in some cases later evicted the prince and declared independence. In other cases princes took over formerly free towns and made them Rezidenz, such as Mainz in 1462, and in others towns fought off such attempts, such as at Luneburg in 1370.

Riga

A major trading city in Livonia, a Free and Hanseatic city, one of the more important members of the Hanseatic League, also one of the most powerful entities within the Livonian Confederation. Militarily and politically formidable.

Ritterbrudern

Literally knight – brother, the warrior monks of the military / religious Orders such as the Knigths Templar and the Hospitalers of Malta, the Livonian Knights, and the Teutonic Order. In the Baltic the latter two are usually meant. Ritterbrudern of the Order wore white with a black cross.

Robber Knight

A knight who lives as a bandit, either temporarily or permanently.  See Raubritter.

Ruthenian

A Slavic people analogous to modern day Ukrainians and Belorussians and closely related to the Russians, part of the original Rus Khaganate. Most Ruthenians were members of the Orthodox Christian religion though there were also a small number of Ruthenian Catholics.

Rus

Members of a mixed Swedish / Slavic / Baltic ethnic group, or the region of Rus city-states which dominated Eastern Europe from the time of the Vikings until the arrival of the Mongol Hordes. The territory of the Rus is roughly analogous to Russia, Berlarus and Ukraine. Most of the cities in Medieval Russia were originally Rus city-states from the time of the pre-Christian Rus Khaganate.

Russian / Russia

In the 15th Century Russia only referred to a region or to the people or culture of the region, as there was no nation called “Russia” in medieval Europe. The Duchy of Moscow was the most powerful polity in Russia. Most of what is today Russia was under the direct or indirect rule of the mongol Golden Horde in the 15th Century, with the exception of the City States of Veliky Novgorod, Pskov and Tver)

Sachsenspiegel

Literally “The Saxon Mirror”, (Sassen Speyghel in Middle Low German).  A series of law books published in several parts of German speaking Central Europe during the Middle Ages, based on two types of law: feudal law (Lehnrecht, the legal relationship between the different estates) and local common law (Landrecht, including civil and criminal law).  There are 460 surviving copies of the Sachsenspeiegel but only four of the extensively illustrated illuminated versions of these manuscripts.

The Sachsenspiegel was the basis for many laws in the Baltic though it was not the only law of the land even in the German speaking districts. The most famous surviving version relevant to the Baltic is the Elbinger Rechtsbuch, a bilingual Low-German/Polish document which includes a version of the Sachsenspiegel as well as the first ever written record of Polish common law.

One of the curious things about medieval life is that there was always a sharp difference between the law as written and the law as practiced. When comparisons are made between law books like the Saxon Mirror and surviving court transcripts there is a significant divergence between the two, with law in practice often proving to be more lenient.

Schöffe

German term for powerful urban magistrates or ‘jurors’, who were effectively judges. Many though not all urban Schöffe were also members of the town council. Councilors who served on the council but were not magistrates were known as Ratsherren.

Samogitia

One of the native Baltic regions of Lithuania, along the Baltic coast between Prussia and Livonia. Home to the fiercely independent Samogitians, and the site of several of the major defeats of the Teutonic Knights and Livonian Order.

Sarmatism

A political doctrine in Poland centered on the belief that they are descended from the Sarmatians.

Saxons

A German-speaking people in Central Europe, one of several powerful tribal groups of the Holy Roman Empire. The Saxons were a pagan tribe who were conquered by Charlemagne in 804, afterward gradually became Christianized and integrated into the feudal system. Many of the German-speaking settlers who ended up in Prussia, Poland, Livonia, Bohemia and other Eastern realms were Saxons, and Saxon Law (see Sachsenspiegel) was influential throughout East-Central Europe.

Saxony

A region in what is now Germany, meaning different specific districts in different eras, originally the home of the Saxons, (Sachsen) one of the ancient German-speaking tribes in Central Europe. In the late Medieval period there were two regions associated with the Saxons. Upper Saxony was in what is now East-Central Germany in the foothills of the Harz mountains, upstream on the Elbe and east of the Saale river, on land once occupied by Slavs, and from the High Medieval period traditionaly associated with the powerful princely Wettin family. The other was Lower Saxony, which is low-country on the North Sea where the Saxons seem to have originated, in what is now North-West Germany, mostly South and West of Denmark.

Sejm

The Polish parliament, including all members of the Szlachta or aristocracy.

Sejmic

A smaller regional sejm or diet in Poland, similar to the Slavic veche, the Norse thing and the German landsgemeinde.

Senat

The upper house of the Polish Parliament or sejm. Also the term for some larger town councils in certain Free Cities which had a republican government, for example Hamburg.

Šepmistr

Czech word for schöffe, a type of magistrate.

Sich

Ruthenian (Ukranian) word for fortress or citadel usually refers to Cossack stronghold. The Zaparozhian Sich is the homeland and stronghold of a powerful Host of Cossacks located below the cataracts on the Dnieper river in what is now the Ukraine.

Silesia

A region between Poland and Bohemia with a mixed German, Czech and Polish population divided into Upper and Lower Silesia.  Lower Silesia was dominated by the city of Wroclaw / Breslau.

Silk Road

A series of roads, trails, and portages leading from China and India, through Central Asia and to various points in Europe including both Russian and Baltic trading towns. The Silk Road was both symbolic of the historic overland trade links between Europe and Asia and the continued active trade caravan links between Chinese, Persian, and Hindu trading centers. Major ports such as the Genoese controlled colony of Caffa in the Crimea and the Rus city-state of Veliky Novgorod in northern Russia formed the western terminus of the trade route.

The ongoing trade of silk, spices, pepper, wootz steel, slaves, fur and lumber was of supreme economic importance in the 15th Century. Interruptions in the flow of goods on the Silk Road was what ultimately led to the development of alternative routes around Africa by the Portuguese and eventually, the opening of the Atlantic and Pacific, and the discovery of the New World.

Soltys

The Polish version of a Vogt, a local rural baliff.

Städtbund

A temporary or permanent coalition or confederation of Free Cities. Though these were outlawed by Emperor Charles IV in the mid-14th Century, they continued to thrive in many areas through the 15th and 16th Centuries in some cases forming permanent city-leagues that controlled significant territory, such as the Lusatian League of Upper Lusatia

Starost

Also Starostwo. Slavic term meaning ‘leader’, ‘senior’, or ‘elder’, but can also be used to mean a burgomeister or mayor in Czech speaking areas, a village or tribal leader in Poland, or a rural district administrator in Russia, (it  was a district usually on behalf of the Grand Duke). The rank is somewhat similar to the German Vojt. There were also Starosta Grodowy who were essentially magistrates (see Schoffe).

Summus Hospitalarius

A high ranking member of the Teutonic Order, in charge of the management of all the Hospitals maintained by the Order.

Summmus Marescalcus

A high ranking member of the Teutonic Order and a member of the cabinet of ministers of the Grand Master. The Summus Marescalcus, also known as the Marschall, was the chief military commander of the Order.

Sword Brothers

Also the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, a monastic Crusader Order similar to the Teutonic Order which was broken up in the 13th Century due to being unruly and being defeated by the Samogitians. Taken over by the Livonian Order.

Szlachta

Pronounced “slatch – teh”. The large Polish gentry or lower aristocracy including, something like 1/6 of the population. All members of the Szlachta had the right to vote in the Sejm or Polish Parliament, and eventually, they all had a veto. The lower ranking Polish nobility were a powerful force in Polish politices during the medieval period, and had an almost Jeffersonian obsession with Liberty (for themselves, if not for their subjects). The Szlachta was divided into several powerful clans who exercised power over many generations somewhat in the manner of princely houses in Central Europe, but with a much larger constituency sometimes consisting of hundreds or even thousands of individual families.

Tábor

A city in Bohemia associated with a faction of the Hussites known as Táborites, also a specific type of mobile wagon fort used by the Hussites of Bohemia, or any war-wagon armed with guns, or any war-wagon. Tabors or war-wagons were the basis of much of the infantry warfare in the Baltic region during the Medieval and Renaissance periods. The word Tabor specifically means hilltop and refers to a hill mentioned in the bible.

Tartar

A European euphemism for all members of the Mongol Horde, regardless of their ethnicity.  Refers to Tartarus as in hell.  Often used interchangeably with the term Tatar.

Tatar

A Central Asian tribe related to the Mongols, and part of the Mongol Golden Horde or Krim Tartar polities, dwelling from Central Asia down to the Crimea.

Terra Mariana

Six feudal principalities, of which five were Clerical, that controlled the majority of Livonia (also known as Terra Mariana, the Land of Mary). These included the archbishopric of Riga, the bishopric of Courland, the bishopric of Dorpat, the bishopric of Osel-Wiek, the duchy of Estonia (a Danish fief) and the military state of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword aka the Livonian Order. Together with a handful of powerful Hanseatic towns, especially Riga, Dorpat, and Reval, these six principalities were the real power brokers in Livonia.

Toruń

Also known as Thorn or Torn.  An important Hanseatic trading city in southern Prussia on the Vistula River.  Part of the Prussian Confederation, Toruń was a Free City.

Thing

Regional tribal or clan assemblies in Norse society.  Though typically associated with the pre-Christian Viking-Era, the Thing continued to be the basis for local courts and administration in several rural districts of Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway well into the Late Medieval Period. By the 15th Century representatives from rural Things composed part of the peasants estate in the Swedish Riksdag or national diet.

Thorn

German name for the city of Toruń. Also sometimes shortened as Torn.

Teutonic Order

Also Teutonic Knights. A powerful Order of Crusading Knights mostly from German-speaking areas, founded during the Crusades in the Middle East, they shifted their main base of operations first to Hungary and then to Prussia in the 13th Century. In 1456 The Teutonic Order controlled a State larger than many European Kingdoms at that time, incorporating most of the land in East Prussia as well as several castles in Poland, Bohemia, Silesia, Pomerania, and Brandenburg. The Teutonic Order was allied with the Livonian Order, the latter being technically a vassal of the Teutonic Knights but in reality it was a separate entity.

Veche

The term Veche was the name of a type of Slavic tribal diet or assembly similar to the Norse Thing, the Polish Wiec, or the German Landsgemeinde. In most cases Veche refered to rural clan or tribal assemblies, but the term was also used to describe the mass meeting of citizens in Russian City States such as Veliky Novgorod, Pskov, and Tver.

Veliky Novgorod

Aka “Lord Novgorod the Great”. Mightiest of the old Rus city-states, never conquered by the Mongols, and still independent in the 15th Century, it was organized as a Republic. A major Eastern outpost of the Hanseatic League, linking it to the Silk Road, Novgorod was a fierce rival to Moscow, and a military rival to Sweden and the Teutonic Order. But as an important trading partner of the Hansa, it was somewhat protected from aggression by Latin forces.  Veliky Novgorod was situated in the far north of the old Rus Khaganate, as a major center of the fur trade over a vast zone of Siberia and parts of Finland. The name Novogord which translates to ‘new city’ was also used by another smaller Russian city.

Vernacular

In the medieval context the vernacular (also frequently called ‘vulgar’) refers to the local written and spoken dialects, as opposed to the Classical languages such as Latin and Greek. Before the 13th Century literature in the vernacular was very rare. By the 15th, literature in the vernacular was becoming mature, and most people in the towns had at least basic literacy in their local dialect of German, French, Polish, Russian etc. These people were considered laymen and not truly educated by the Church, which continued to do its business in Latin.

Vilnius

Aka Wilna.  The capitol of Lithuania. A strongly fortified town which resisted the concerted efforts of Crusaders to capture it for many years, Vilnius was founded by the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminus in the 14th Century on the basis of a prophecy by a pagan priest. Gediminus made Vilnius into a free city with a strict policy of free religion and invited merchants and artisans from Europe. Vilnius was attacked by the Teutonic Order and Crusaders from as far away as England in the 1390’s, but with the help of many allies it fended off the attackers. In the 15th Century Vilnius had a large population from throughout Latin Europe, as well as Greeks, Russians, Jews, and even Muslims from Central Asia.

Voivode

A powerful military, administrative and territorial ruler, roughly equivalent in stature to a Duke. In Poland and Lithuania the voivode was a regional governor appointed by and beholden to the King of Poland or Grand Duke of Lithuania respectively. In pre-Chrsitian times the voivode was elected by the veche, in late medieval Poland he presided over, and to some extent was subject to the Sejmik or local assembly. Voivode’s also acted as military leaders in Late medieval Polish armies and were often equivalent to knights-banneret.

Vogt

A type of rural baliff, the representative of a lord or a prince of some kind. Also called landvogt, or soltys to the Poles.  Most vogts were found in rural areas but territorial towns (mediatstadt) would have an urban vogt who represented the wishes of the lord. In rural areas especially the vogt could have a lot of power, and sometimes acted as judge, jury and executioner

Wisby

Also Visby. An important Swedish trading town on the Island of Gotland, Wisby was one of the founding members of the Hanseatic League, arguably it was the key founding member before Lübeck. Wisby was unusual among the northern trading towns for its very international character; it was not dominated by German traders or Scandinavians or Russians, but included traders from all those regions and many others.

Wisby was a trading nexus for goods from Sweden and Prussia, as well as from Finland, and was once very powerful, but it was largely broken during bitter wars between the Hanseatic League and the Kingdom of Denmark in the 14th Centgury. It later became the home base of various pirate groups, including briefly Eric II of Pomerania, King of Denmark, who abdicated his throne to pursue a life of piracy.

Wroclaw

Also called Breslau by the Germans and Vertislav by the Czechs, as well as by many other variations of all three names over the centuries. A powerful Free City in Silesia, which was the strongest political and military entity in that region. Led the resistance against Czech control of Silesia (even though it was technically part of the Kingdom of Bohemia) and extremely hostile to compromise with the heretical Hussites. Allied with the Kingdom of Hungary against the de-facto leadership of Bohemia. Often at odds with the largely German Silessian Gentry, the Polish religious authorities, and the Czech heretics (moderate or otherwise) all more or less simlultaneously. Militarily formidable.