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Mikhail Bykov: With All Due Respect…
 Apr 12, 2011

With all due respect, the last thing I want to write about today is the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight…

On April 12, 1242, Russian Prince Alexander Yaroslavovich known by the nickname Nevsky defeated the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Knights. Not alone, of course, but with allies. And this battle was dubbed the Battle on the Ice.

But as with any event tied to manifestations of national valor, historians of the new wave are pouring their hearts into effort to dissect and rethink the battle on Lake Chud. The range of scenarios is enormous – from suggestions that the key role in achieving victory was played by and only by volunteers from the regiment of Alexander’s brother Andrei to outright dismissal of the fact that the battle ever took place. Various arguments are used in these attempts to discredit this bright episode from our glorious past.

For example, they write that the Novgorod chronicles just as the Pskov chronicles could not help but lie. After all, that was typical of those times. And so this battle wasn’t a battle at all but rather a modest skirmish between a small Russian detachment and small group of knights. It’s not for nothing that in the rhyming Livonian chronicles the Germans report 20 knights killed and 6 taken prisoner.

They write that the battle took place on the island of Vorony (there is such an island on the map), but an entire expedition of the Academy of Science of the USSR that worked there for ten years from the mid-1950s to mid-1960s couldn’t find a single grave, remains of weapons or munitions.

They write that the figure of Alexander Nevsky is a myth created by medieval PR specialist and supported by Soviet propaganda. In reality the prince was just like any other prince and no better than his long forgotten brother Andrei.

To be honest, I sometimes get the feeling that someone strong and influential has set about to achieve the following goal: destroy Russian history and write it anew. And this new version would show that it is a mere coincidence that the Russian people managed not to fall under wheels of any other nation at historic crossroads.

And no Presidential Commission to Counter Attempts to Falsify History is going to be able to stop this. By the way, has anyone heard anything about that commission lately?

The level of historical awareness and historical responsibility is such in Russia that it would appropriate to quickly rehash what really did occur some 770 (minus 1) year ago on Pskovian land.

After fighting off the Swedes on the banks of the Neva in 1240, Alexander Nevsky faced a new challenge. The Livonian Order, which was provoked by Pope Gregory IX in 1237 to march on a crusade into Eastern Europe, fell upon the land of Pskov. Note here that they chose a great time – right after the Mongol raids throughout eastern and southern lands of Rus.

The knights captured Pskov, and they intended to further develop this expansion. The Novgorod chronicles clearly state the Prince Alexander Yaroslavovich of Pereslavl freed Pskov and marched onward to Livonian territory. The Livonian Order gathered more troops and set out for battle. The ancient manuscripts do not indicate precisely where the Rus and the Germans butted heads. But it is clearly stated that they fought on land and not on the ice.

Back in the late-1980s a group of amateur historians  studied the territory of the south bank of Lake Chud in the Gdov district of the Pskov region. And they found burial sites of Russian and German warriors and thus seem to have finally identified the place of the battle – between the villages of  Kozlovo, Tabory and Samolva.

They also managed to find remains of weapons and knights at the bottom of Lake Chud in Zhelchinskaya Bukhta (Bay), where the knights fled after the heavily armed “swine” was lured into a trap and attacked from all sides.

So there was a battle. And it took place on the shores of Lake Chud near Vorony Stone, which had a cult status and bore no relation to Vorony Island.

Was it a major battle. Even if we accepts the low estimates of Academician Skrinnikov, who estimated the knights to number around 400, we can confidently say that the Battle on Ice was a rather serious conflict for that time and that is produced a strategically important result. The Livonian Order never again set foot on Russian lands. If we look at the military statistics that have been preserved to this day from medieval times, it is clear that the vast majority of battles too place between modest armies of several thousand troops. The main fighting force was composed of professional warriors, and they were not great in number.

And so the Blessed Saint Prince Alexander Nevsky is no myth, but a very real person who managed in a very difficult time in the early history of Rus to choose the right strategy of appeasing the power Golden Horde while putting down the threat coming from eternally hungry neighbors to the West. 

As it turns out, there is an official day – a Day of Military Glory – dedicated to the battle on Lake Chud, which thanks to our State Duma we celebrate on… April 18. There is one simple explanation: According to the old style, the battle took place on April 5, add the standard 13-day difference and there you have it – April 18. The fly in the ointment here is that in the 13th century the difference between the calendars was 7 days and not 13.

And there is an explanation a little more complicated: They added 7 days as appropriate and realized that it was April 12. Alexander Nevsky and Yuri Gagarin on the same day – wouldn’t that be a little too much?

But regardless of how you try and spread it out: on April 12 we defeated the Germans for the first time and we were the first in space.

Mikhail Bykov


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