Russian campaign to Otepää

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March 1217

In autumn 1216, the new prince of Pihkva, Vladimir, who did not like that the Ugaunians had been christened and had surrendered to the Germans, started to act. For centuries the county of Ugaunia had been considered to belong to the Russian princes as tax paying land. The Ugaunians were threatened based on these claims, and among other things the fort of Otepää was temporarily captured.

Ugaunians turned to bishop Albert for help, who sent some forces to Otepää, to protect his interests. Together with the Estonians, the crusaders started to fortify Otepää. In the beginning of 1217, Ugaunians organized several counter attacks, together with bishop's and Order's men.

At the same time, joint army of Rigans, Livonians, Latgalians and also Ugaunians raided Järvamaa county. After several days of pillaging, the elders of Järva agreed to give hostages, accept the sacrament of baptizing and paying a tribute. This raid, however, did not bring along any significant changes.

In spring 1217, large army from Pihkva and Novgorod reached Otepää. Russians sent war invitations all over the land, which were answered by Oeselians, Revalians and Saccalians, who, thus, broke their deals with Germans.

This joint army begun to attack the Otepää fort, but unsuccessfully for 17 days. Help arrived from Riga, but the army of Estonians and Russians destroyed it completely. German losses were great, among others the provincial leader of Võnnu, Berthold, fell.

Now, the defenders in the fort, suffering from lack of food and water, had to surrender. Even though this was one of the greatest defeats of the Germans in the crusade, it did not throw them off balance. The success of Estonians and Russians seemed to be more of a coincidence.

Source: Sulev Vahtre. Muinasaja loojang Eestis: vabadusvõitlus 1208-1227. Tallinn: Olion. 1990
Eesti ajaloo atlas. Tallinn: Avita, 2006.

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