A Warrior Dynasty – Henrik O. Lunde

The Rise and Fall of Sweden as a Military Superpower, 1611-1721

This book is an overview of the short period when the tiny nation of Sweden became the not only a superpower in Europe, but nearly the arbiter of Germany and the Baltic.

This period was punctuated by the short careers two famous warrior kings – Gustavus Adolphus and Charles XII.  Gustavus is famed for his intervention in the Thirty Years War and major victories that stabilized the situation and kept Protestantism viable in Germany.  Charles XII is noted more for his struggles against Poland and Russia in the Great Northern War.

Sweden early in this period gained a technology advantage over standard military practice which gave their armies more flexibility in battle and attached light artillery that could pound the unwieldy square pike formations then in vogue.  This advantage and the ability of Gustavus Adolphus led to a crushing victory at Brietenfeld and moved he theater of war from the Baltic Coast to south Germany.

While the able general Wallenstein was able to fend off Gustavus for a time, a second victory at Lutzen confirmed the superiority of Swedish arms.  Sadly for Sweden, the king Gustavus was killed at the battle and the war was put in the hands of a Chancellor while a young Queen waited to grow up.

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Vanished Kingdoms – Litva

So where is Litva?  This chapter in Norman Davies‘ book on states that did not survive in European History was interesting just because it comes from a part of the continent that is not often written about – the Baltic and inland area.

In the ninth century AD the expansion of the Scandinavians was extending out in all directions.  To the north, south and west they were called the Vikings and no place on a coast or river was safe.  To the east, the Varangian spread into and through the Baltic and across current-day Russia down to the Black Sea and Constantinople.

Map of Lithuania Proper

Map of Lithuania Proper (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The critical part of these crossings were portaging places, where the trade routes (or invading routes) crossed from rivers leading to the Baltic to those that flowed to the Black Sea.  The Varangian built forts in these places which grew into states with time.  one built on the Niemen river was named Litva, after the Slavic tribe in the area.

In the next centuries these statelets fought and grew and split up.  Kiev became a major power.  Litva jointed with Polatsk to cover numerous routes.  In the 12th Century the Baltic coast area was attacked by the German Teutonic Knights, and the eastern states were conquered by the Mongols.  The states in-between linked up in defense under a King, forming the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Lithuanian state in the 13-15th centuries

Lithuanian state in the 13-15th centuries (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the Mongol threat waned, Lithuania expanded into the void, taking Kiev and the Ukraine and even reaching the Black Sea at Odessa.  They soon lost that strip of coastland to the Ottomans, but gained even more land by unification with Poland in the 1500s.   Lithuania owned a huge wedge of land, basically everything between Germany and the  modern cities of  St. Petersburg and Rostov.

But this was the beginning of the end.  Russia to the east, Austria to the South, and Prussia to the West began slicing up the large but weak state, which could do little in response.  In the late 1700s, the third and last “Partition of Poland” put and end to the Grand Duchy and the Kingdom of Poland.

"A map of the Kingdom of Poland and the G...

“A map of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania including Samogitia and Curland divided according to their dismemberments with the Kingdom of Prussia” from 1799. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Poland has been resurrected a few times since, the coastal region saw freedom in the 1920s, but it was not until the breakup of the USSR that the core region of Litva became independent again as Belarus.