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1.1 The 13th and 14th Centuries

During the 13th century two external threats arose, ones that continued to play a role during the following centuries. First there was the rise of the Teutonic Knights, who intended to convert the Baltic heathens. In 1204 they founded Riga in Livonia as their base of operation, and they continued to forge into the eastern hinterland from Prussia. During the same period the Tartars destroyed Moscow (1238), Kiev (1240) and even Cracow and all of Silesia. Only the united Baltic tribes under King Mindaugas (1203-1263) managed to resist the Khan. The crowing of Mindaugas as Grand Duke (1253) marked the foundation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Belarus (White Russia) was founded and separated from eastern Rus’, meaning that the two halves would each undergo a completely different development, including different religious allegiances: the first as a follower of Kiev and the other of Moscow. The new duchy was primarily Christian, but the leaders were still heathen warriors. The struggle between heathens and Christians in the Baltic region was to last for a long time but was eventually won by the Christians.

After the reign of the Khan, the Tartars began to wander ever further to the south and to settle in the Volga basin, giving the Grand Duchy an opportunity to penetrate as far as Kiev. In 1323 the Grand Duchy got a new capital, Vilnius, where the grand duke encouraged foreign craftsmen and merchants to settle. The Grand Duke conquered ever more land and was able to break the power of the Tartars for good. The new empire was larger than France and was to prevail for another two centuries. Moscow also broke the Tartar stranglehold. Of course the newly powerful Vilnius and Moscow at once became enemies who disputed control of the intervening lands.

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