Novgorod “our newest 5 song E.P. released this past February” is a concept album based on the history of the Rus’, a mighty band of Scandinavian Vikings that founded what is now Russia and the Ukraine. From the founding of their great nation Novgorod to succumbing to international pressure and converting to Christianity, this E.P. covers it all. With the 4th track “Battle of the Ice” being uploaded onto all of our free streaming services, SoundCloud, YouTube, Facebook, Pestilent666.com, ReverbNation, and BandCamp, it is time for another edition of “The History Behind Novgorod”.
Battle of the Ice brings us back to April 1242 A.D. An army of Christian Crusaders made up of Estonians, Germans, and Danes was making its way into Novgorod to force their conversion into Catholicism. Novgorod at that point had already been forced to convert to Christianity by former Grand Prince Vladimir the Great. Their conversion however was to the Greek Orthodox Church. Both forms of Christianity, Catholicism and Orthodox had long been fighting amongst one another for territorial power. Today we think of the Catholic Church in the middle ages and we think of the Crusades to retake Jerusalem; however the vast trade routes into Eastern and Northern Europe proved too profitable to be left alone.
Attempts to put Eastern and Northern Europe into Catholic control were known as the black crusades. However the black crusades were not the only thing Novgorod had to worry about. The descendants of Genghis Khan had swept through much of Europe. From Mongolia to Europe these Mongols known as the Golden Horde conquered all. Instead of ruling over the lands they had taken they demanded huge amounts of gold to leave. The man responsible for dealing with such delicate matters was none other than Alexander Nevsky.
Led by Prince-Bishop Hermann of Dorpat, the crusaders were better equipped than Alexander’s army. Their armor, weapons, and style of warfare were so much more advanced that even though the Novgorod army outnumbered them an easy victory seemed inevitable. Hermann’s first strike was in fact victorious. Close to Novgorod’s border Alexander was defeated. With the flame of the crusader’s confidence stoked they pursued Alexander’s army north to Lake Peipus.
Novgorod wasn’t running from inevitable defeat. Their retreat was drawing the opposition to a battle field of Nevsky’s choosing, a place with rolling hills and slick ice. It would be hard to flank an army nestled on high ground. Novgorod was running, not from battle, but into battle. Once reaching Lake Peipus Alexander’s army crossed the ice to the far bank. The opposing army was now forced to cross the ice and break Novgorod’s front lines on slick uneven ground. The Rus’ had gained the advantage; with nothing left to do they waited.
Before long the sight of an opposing army crossing the lake was spotted. Nevsky’s men took up arms, before the Crusaders were even within range the Rus’ began to launch volleys of arrows. As the knights crept forward their organization began to lax. Without the comfort of sturdy ground combined with a constant barrage of arrows, their encroachment began to slow. Once the crusaders reached the shore they charged, driving the center of their army into the Rus’. Alexander didn’t intend to beat an army better equipped, better armored, and better trained in face to face combat. His men simply hoped for a stalemate. If neither side advanced and Novgorod’s formation could stay intact archers from Novgorod’s center and right ranks could pick apart the ranks of the opposing force. It worked, the opposing army was stalled and their left flank made up of Danish soldiers quickly deteriorated.
While a hole in the crusader’s army opened up other spots in their lines began to break apart. Their constant charges into the ranks of the Rus’ proved tiring, and once they began to exhaust their energy Alexander call in his cavalry. The opening of the crusader’s left flank gave a perfect entry point into the battle and their flanks quickly filled in with Novgorod’s horsemen. The fight raged on, each moment turning towards Novgorod’s favor. In this final hour of the battle at lake Peipus the crusaders fled. What happened next? Historical accounts and legends intermingle.
Legend says that the fleeing army drowned in the frigid waters of Lake Peipus after the weight of their huddled retreat cracked the ice. While it is assumed that some of the knights drowned most of the remaining knights successfully retreated. Alexander took 50 prisoners and an estimated 500 enemy soldiers were slain. The account of inflated fatalities was first thought to arise in the 1938 Russian film Alexander Nevsky which shows the crusaders fleeing across a frozen lake before plunging to their death.