The main account we have of the German Order’s own view of its enemies is found in its chronicles written in the period between 1326 and 1340 in Prussia. Peter of Dusburg’s ‘ChroniconTerrae Prussie’ was presented to Grand Master Werner of Orseln in 1226 and describes the foundation of the Order and its campaigns against the Prussians and Lithuanians up to that date. Dusburg identifies himself as a priest brother in the order. His chronicle was translated into the vernacular and brought up to date by Nicolaus of Jeroschin, who was chaplain to the Grand Master and completed the work in 1240. It is recognised that the chronicles were written with a variety of specific purposes in mind. Firstly, they were a restatement of the ethos of crusade at a time, after the loss of Acre, when the crusading ideal per se and the military orders were no longer as powerful as they had been. Indeed the Templars were dissolved in 1312, not long before the chronicle was started, and the German Order itself had been obliged to move its headquarters in rapid succession from Acre to Venice and then to Prussia, where it remained, in the Marienburg, until the Reformation. In response to this, much of the introduction is taken up with a restatement of the crusading ethos, the Order’s “new warfare”, within a treatise on physical and spiritual weapons which reiterates the principles of St Bernhard’s nova militia, listing the weapons at the disposal of the Christian warrior and defining their theological pedigree and the occasions on which they could lawfully be used. Secondly, and building on this theological foundation, the chronicle was written in order to locate the wars in Prussia securely within the context of crusades and to justify the Order’s presence there. The bulk of the text describes the campaigns in Prussia and Lithuania in the language and theological setting of divinely approved warfare on behalf of the Christian faith. Thirdly, by revitalising the concept of crusade, the order hoped to influence and attract the lay knights and princes without whose support and crusading vows the campaign in Prussia and the Order’s successes in the fourteenth century would not have been possible.
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