History Goes On

Theocratic rule, native agency and transformation: Post-crusade sacred landscapes in the eastern Baltic

Landscapes, vol. 19

Dr Aleks Pluskowski

University of Reading


The crusades against eastern Baltic societies from the end of the twelfth century saw the reorganisation of the conquered territories into new Christian polities, a reconfiguration of land ownership and an intensification in resource exploitation to sustain the new regime and growing urban and rural populations. An ecclesiastical administration was imposed on the conquered territories, alongside the construction of churches and monasteries, confronting native religions which attached sacred importance to natural places and cemeteries. This paper compares the transformation of sacred landscapes in Livonia and Prussia and provides an interpretation of variability in relation to theocratic authority, native and migrant populations. Encompassing the role of settlements, cemeteries and the tempo of change, the paper is situated within a new archaeological framework contextualising medieval religious transformation; it also provides the first detailed, comparative perspective for the two regions. The landscape was not uniformly transformed and its variability, particularly the post-crusade endurance and even proliferation of native sacred sites, reflects the limits of theocratic authority and the pragmatic necessities of ruling conquered populations. This strong variability in the nature and process of Christianisation even in superficially similar areas should serve as a warning to resist generalising across limited data sets.


Aleks Pluskowski is Associate Professor of Medieval Archaeology at the University of Reading, UK. His research focuses on human impact on past environments, particularly in the frontier societies of medieval Europe. He was PI on the Ecology of Crusading project, funded by the ERC, and is now the principal PI on the Landscapes of (Re)Conquest project, funded by the AHRC. He teaches the archaeology of crusading, alongside the archaeology of medieval Europe and zooarchaeology.

Where to read

Click here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14662035.2018.1561009

Full citation: Pluskowski, A., Valk, H. and Szczepański, S. 2019. ‘Theocratic rule, native agency and transformation: Post-crusade sacred landscapes in the eastern Baltic’, Landscapes 19, 4-24.