LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 29, No.3 - Fall 1983
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
Copyright © 1983 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Sven Ekdahl, Die Schlacht bei Tannenberg 1410.
Quellenkritische Untersuchungen. Band I: Einführung und Quellenlage. Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, 1982. (=Berliner Historische Studien, Band 8). 378 p. Paperback = 68 DM; hard cover = 86 DM.
In Lituanus (vol. 25, 1979, No. 4, pp. 66-67) we briefly reviewed Dr. Ekdahl's first hefty and important book, Die "Banderia Prutenorum" des Jan Dlugosz. He has devoted many years of his life to the fundamental review and reevaluation of all the massive materials of all kinds pertaining to the Battle of Tannenberg problem complex. The Banderia Prutenorum was actually only a "way station" of Ekdahl's main work on this very important battle. Certainly, as the 50 plus reviews of the Banderia show (cf. Die Schlacht bei Tannenberg, p. 275), this earlier book is a major work of its own merits. However, in this first volume of the work, under review here, there is an "excursus" discussing the impact of and the reaction to the Banderia Prutenorum. A very intriguing question concerns, for example, the Teutonic battle flags which were captured at Tannenberg and then were taken to Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. Apparently, there is no documentation at all concerning the "Lithuanian share" of these captured battle flags. Nobody even knows how many were taken to Poland and how many to Lithuania.
And now we shall turn our attention to the book under review here. One can predict, just after having read this first volume, that this is going to be, especially when the 2nd volume is published, the main standard work on the Battle of Tannenberg. First of all, this work is free of any preconceived ideas, of the "pro-this" and "pro-that" attitude. Sven Ekdahl lets the documents and other evidence speak for themselves, and his comments and interpretations are based on the evidence cum the logical deductive method. And this kind of attitude is basic in writing and interpreting history. The historiography on Tannenberg has always been emotional. Simply because this battle shaped the historical destiny of three nations in this Central European area. Although the Teutonic Knights were, properly speaking, an Order of the (Roman) Catholic Church, nevertheless, they were primarily Germans, and the German historians have always treated the history of the Teutonic Knights as part of the history of Germany.
Since about 1200 (A.D.) — i.e., for almost 200 years, all the fighting, all the attacks and raids which took place in this huge area: the Teutonic Knights, Lithuania and Poland, all the hostilities led, one way or another, to this decisive battle.
There is no doubt in my mind that the author, Sven Ekdahl, is deeply familiar with this background. But in this book, I did not find the author mentioning it, even in the basic and briefest outline — in the introductory part of the book. I mention this especially in view of the fact that the author did spend a considerable amount of his research and space (cf. pp. 107-125) in discussing the philosophical and even theological views, and their development which dominated the thoughts at that time concerning the major questions such as the "just war", the "just ruler", the "just cause", etc.
The book has, in brief, the following basic parts: Introduction. Chapter I: Archives and Libraries; Chapter II: The Written Sources about the Battle; Chapter III: The Maps; Chapter IV: The Archeological Sources. Then, there follows several special "addenda": proposals for further archeological diggings, the Polish excavations of 1980, etc. At the end of this monumental volume, one finds the German-Polish and Polish-German glossaries of the main geographical names used in the book as well as the listing of the 64 pages of illustrations.
There is also an "excursus" and one item of the "addenda" at the end of the most exhaustive Chapter II (pp. 107-274): the "excursus" deals with the origin of the Banderia Prutenorum (pp. 275-296), and the "addendum" gives the text of the second part of the speech of Andreas Lascari (pp. 297-307).
Chapter IV also has two extra "insertions": one analyzes certain data contained in the so-called Kronika Bychowca; the second part of this "excursus" gives the German translation of that part of the Kronika Bychowca which describes the battle of Tannenberg (pp. 344-353).
Naturally, the major part of the book is Chapter II (="The Written Sources about the Battle — up to the Annules of Jan Dlugosz") which really describes the Quellenlage which is the main aim of this book as stated in the subtitle. Indeed, Ekdahl must have spent an enormous amount of time going through many archives himself, reading so many references. It is really amazing that one person could have done so much spade work. Nowadays, many such a scholarly enterprise is carried out by team work. Apparently, in Europe, especially in (Western) Germany the scholar devotes his own personal and individual efforts in carrying out his research. Sven Ekdahl seemingly did everything himself, no coauthors nor collaborators helped him along. Even in the area of illustrations the author had to re-draw many maps, tables, etc. He took many photographs himself as well.
The quality of Ekdahl's work, without any doubt, is such that this monumental work, especially when the second volume appears, will be the major reference work on the Battle of Tannenberg. But, since there is no end to perfection, one can always find some minor bones of contention. We will mention a few.
There is, for example, the name of the Lithuanian ruler, Vytautas, known in the Lithuanian historiography as Vytautas Didysis, i.e., Vytautas the Great. In various late medieval documents his name is given in many and varied forms: Latin — Vitoldus; Polish — Witold; Russian — Vitout, Vitold, Vytowt; German — Vitold, Vitoldus, Witold, Witowt, etc. Ekdahl chooses the form which has been used in German historiography by tradition: Witold. In similar manner, Ekdahl follows the German scribal tradition.
One term, however, appears here for the first time — at least to my knowledge. This concerns the name, in Modern German, of the original inhabitants of the whole area where the battle took place. These were the Baltic, not Germanic, tribes, or nation(s) known in the oldest Latin sources as Borussi, or Porussi, or Prussi. They were, linguistically and culturally, closely related to the Lithuanians on their north and north-eastern frontiers. Eventually, the German form, as it emerges into (Standard) Modern High German became Preussen, both for the country (=Preussen) and the inhabitants (=die Preussen; sg. der Preusse). However, when the Baltic (non-Germanic; non-German) Prussians died out, the local German inhabitants were called die Preussen, 'the Prussians'. Later, this name was extended to the whole of the expanded Kingdom of Prussia, in some cases — to the whole of Germany. Now, according to Ekdahl (cf. p. 3), The Historical Commission for the Research of East and West Prussia have decided to use the term (die) Prussen for the original Baltic inhabitants of this entire area. This information is given in Footnote 8, p. 3, and Ekdahl remarks that some difference should be made between the terms Prussen ( = the original Baltic inhabitants) and Preussen ( = the later German newcomers). Basically, it is a good idea, but I wonder whether it will not cause even more confusion. E.g., in linguistics the language of the Prussen is called, in German, Altpreussisch, and in English — Old Prussian. Now, changing this again by introducing this new term — clearly based on Latin, or Lithuanian — that may be useful for historians, but I wonder whether the linguists will be able to accept it without some fuss and/or consternation.
One more name: that of the Samogitians. These are the Lithuanians living in the western part of Lithuania, close to the Baltic Sea. In Lithuanian, they are called žemaičiai (singular: žemaitis) which simply means "Lowlanders; Low Lithuanians" (cf. Low German: High German). In the earliest historical sources, written in Latin, it was called Samogitia, or Samogithia, but it has a great variety of forms in various German and Slavic documents. Again, like with Witold, Ekdahl has chosen one of the most frequent forms used in German historiography, (die) Samaiten, and I think it is a good choice because the other variants (i.e., Schemaiten, Zemaiten, Samogitier, etc.) are more controversial, less frequently used.
As in so many cases, where the late medieval times are concerned, there is no agreement on many terms, titles, names, etc. For example, in the text itself, Ekdahl refers to the Lithuanian ruler as "Grossherzog Witold", because this title is used in some German writings.
But my personal opinion is that "Grossfürst Witold" would be more acceptable. This, in a sense, leads us into a very tricky and controversial situation concerning the whole problem of the so-called Lithuanian-Polish "union". We refer here to the so-called Kriavas-Acts. No matter how one may regard all of this, at the time of the Battle of Tannenberg (i.e., 1410), the Lithuanian ruler, Vytautas, has achieved the status, in reality, of a completely sovereign ruler, and he was already planning to be officially crowned King of Lithuania. After all, the Lithuanian King Mindaugas (ca. 1232-1263) had officially received the royal crown of Lithuania from the pope and was crowned King of Lithuania in 1253.
Similar questions may be raised in reference to some other terms used. For example, Ekdahl sometimes uses such expressions as das litauische Heer (='the Lithuanian army'), but sometimes he also says das litauisch-russische Heer (=the Lithuanian-Russian army'). I think it is wrong: after all, in all the armies of that time there were all kinds of people. If we follow this example, then the Teutonic Knights' army should be called something like "German-Prussian-Austrian-Czech-Hungarian-French . . . army"; i.e., listing, as it were, all the contingents of the guests, helpers, and mercenaries. Thus, it is my belief that the term das litauische Heer (='the Lithuanian army') is the more proper one.
Really, all the things we have just mentioned are of very minor importance indeed. They do not detract at all from the over-all impression that this is one of these major books that appear only infrequently.
Of course, only when Volume II comes out it will present as complete a picture of this important battle as it is humanly possible — almost 575 years after the battle had taken place. We will now mention a few interesting points and/or ideas Ekdahl has raised in this book.
In the introductory chapter (pp. 6-7) Ekdahl lists, in one huge footnote, all the major works, in German, English, Polish, and Lithuanian, concerning the history of the Teutonic Knights, of Poland, and of Lithuania. This is really a good list including works of such well-known Polish historians as Jerzy Ochmanski, Oskar Halecki, and of such Lithuanian historians as Constantine Jurgėla, Juozas Jakštas, Zenonas Ivinskis, etc.
On page 17 we read — like a summary of a mystery story — the fate of the most famous painting of the battle, the huge (ca. 13 feet x ca. 30 feet) painting by Jan Matejko (painted in 1878). This painting was hidden during the entire German occupation of Poland (1939-1944) during W.W. II. The Nazi Propaganda Minister, Goebbels offered ten million marks for its discovery. Quite a few Poles must have known that the painting was taken from Warsaw, brought to Lublin and buried under the floor of the conference room in the Museum of the City of Lublin. Such was the importance of this huge painting for the Poles that even ten million German marks found no takers.
Some of the more intriguing questions which the author does not answer in this first volume: 1) the number of combatants on both sides, and 2) the very course of the battle itself. The sources, even the primary sources, vary very widely on both of these questions. The author hints that he may never be able to determine much more precisely about the number of the combatants, but he also hints broadly that, in the 2nd volume, he may present a new and different interpretation of the course of the battle itself.
I am sure that this volume will be the subject of many reviews, articles, etc. And many people will be waiting impatiently for the appearance of the second volume, the culmination of Sven Ekdahl's monumental work.
The University of Rochester