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The Battle of Liegnitz/Legnica

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Domen View Drop Down

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  Quote Domen Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: The Battle of Liegnitz/Legnica
    Posted: 14-Apr-2013 at 16:02

I was always under the impression that the Polish were completly and utterly destroyed at the battle of Liegnitz and that they offered little resistance towards the Mongols. However, I came upon two sites offering completly different stories from the battle. Both of them claim that the polish actually fared pretty well (we all know they did better than the Hungarians), but one of them seems to suggest that the poles even did an extraordinary work at Liegnitz. Now, this site is mostly just filled with historical inaccuracies (it even claims that Duke Henry made it out of the battle alive) but, is there anyone here that can tell me what resistance the poles DID offer at Liegnitz? Were they utterly beaten or did they actually put up a tough resistance towards the mongols/tatars?

After the battle of Legnica, Poles put up resistance at the castle of Legnica. The Mongols attempted to capture the castle (but probably they did not try too hard - as they quickly stopped trying). The Poles managed to hold the castle, and the Mongols marched towards Bohemia and then to Hungary - to join their main forces there. Regarding the battle of Legnica itsef:

Primary sources indeed do not present Liegnitz (Legnica) as a one-sided battle.

Let me translate and quote some primary sources about the battle:

Originally posted by Historia Tartarorum

(...) The Tartars advancing further towards Silesia clashed with Henry, at that time the most Christian duke of these lands. In the moment, when they - as the Tartars themselves told to brother Benedict - already wanted to retreat from the battlefield, suddenly, completely unexpectedly, forces of the Christians turned to escape. (...)

Originally posted by Silesian Chronicle

(...) An extremely heavy battle took place there, in which at the side of the Poles also crusaders fought, in the end the ducal army rushed to escape, chased by the victorious pagans. (...)

Chronicles of Jan Długosz (below I provide link to the original Polish language version):

Originally posted by Jan Długosz

(...) Henry deploys his army and divides it into four units. The first unit consisted of crusaders and volunteers speeking various languages gathered from various nationalities. To reinforce them, so the ranks were more compact, as there was not enough of them, gold diggers from the town of Zlota Gora (for the gold mines were located there) were attached to them. These were commanded by son of the Margrave of Moravia [Margrave Dypold], Boleslav. The second unit consisted of knights from Cracow and from Greater Poland, under comand of brother of the fallen voivode of Cracow Wlodzimierz, Sulislav. The third unit consisted of knights from Opole. They were lead by duke of Opole, Mieczyslav. The fourth of Poppo from Osterna, the grand master of Prussia, with brothers and his knights. The fifth was led by duke Henry himself. It consisted of Silesian squires and squires from Wroclaw, better and more significant knights from Greater Poland and Silesia as well as a small number of other soldiers, hired for pay.

The number of Tartar units was the same [as the number of Henry's units], but they were considerably superior in numbers, as well as in selection and battle experience of warriors. And each of those units alone, taken separately, surpassed / exceeded all the hosts of the Poles.

The fight was started by the unit consisting of crusaders, volunteers and gold diggers (...) Both sides clashed in a ferocious attack. The crusaders and volunteers smashed with their lances the first lines of the Tartars and were advancing forward. But when the fighting with swords started, the Tartar archers encircled the unit of crusaders and volunteers in such a way, that other Polish units could not give them a hand without exposing themselves to danger. Finally the unit faltered and fell under the rain of arrows, just like delicate ears beaten by hail (because many in this unit were uncovered and unarmoured). And when the son of Dypold, Boleslav (...) and other knights from the first rows fell there, the others, who also had been dwindled by Tartar arrows, retreated towards other Polish units.

Then two units of knight Sulislav and of duke of Opole Mieczyslav undertake the fight, which would be fought fortunately and constantly against three units of Tartars who were replacing wounded soldiers by fresh soldiers during the fight, and would inflict a severe defeat on the Tartars, because they were supported and protected from Tartar arrows by covering fire of Polish crossbowmen. The Tartar ranks at first were forced to fall back, and soon after that, when the Poles attacked them even more strongly - to flee.

In the meantime someone from the Tartar army - it is unknown if he was of Russian or of Tartar origin - running very fast here and there between the two armies was terribly yelling, addressing to both armies contradictory words of encouragement. For he was yelling in Polish: "Run, Run!" ["Biegajcie, biegajcie!" - in original], which means: "Escape, escape!" - sawing terror among the Poles, at the same time in Tartar language he was encouraging the Tartars to fight and to endure.

On those calls duke of Opole, Mieczyslav, convinced, that those were not shouts of the enemy but of his own countryman and friend, whose action was caused by compassion, not by deception, giving up the fight ran away from the battlefield and pulled with him a great number of soldiers, especially those, who had been under his command in the third unit.

When duke Henry noticed this, and when others told him about this, he started to sigh and mourn, saying: "Gorze happened to us" ["Gorze nam się stało!" - in original], which means: a great misfortune fell on us. However, Henry, not yet completely terrified by the escape of Mieczyslav and men from his unit, leads to a fight his fourth formation, consisting of the best and the bravest warriors. Henry attacks and strikes the three Tartar units, the same which had been defeated and forced to fall back by the two previously mentioned Polish units, as hard as he can. His unit kills many Tartars and forces them to retreat.

Then the commander of the Tartar army sent to combat his reserve unit, bigger than all the [previous] three. He resumes the fight, brings help to the endangered and dispersed Tartars, and with tremendous attack strikes the Poles. But because the Poles, who still tried to tempt for a victory, were not giving their ground, for some time ferocious fight between both armies lasted. When during that fight a significant part of the most excellent Tartars fell, it was a close call for the Poles to achieve a full victory. The Tartars, when their ranks dwindled, already started to think about escaping.

But among many banners of the Tartars, there was one huge banner, on which such a sign " X " was painted. And on the top of the pole of that banner, there was a representation of an awful, black head, with chin covered by beard. When the Tartars fell back one staje behind [one staje = 134 meters], and were likely to start escaping, the standard-bearer of that banner started to, as hard as he could, shake that head, which was high on a pole.

Immediately some steam, smoke and mist belched from it and spread over the entire Polish army, its smell was so stinking that the fighting Poles, almost fainted and barely alive, weakened, becoming unable to fight. It is known, that Tatars since the very beginning of their existence until the present time have always been using both in wars and beyond them the art and science of predicting, divination, prophecies and sorcery and that they practiced it also in the fight fought at that time against the Poles. And there is no any other nation among the barbarians, which would more believe in their divination, prophecies and sorcery, when some action has to be taken.

Therefore the Tartars, realizing the fact that the already almost victorious Poles under the influence of mist, smoke and stink were seized by fear and some sort of doubt, raising terrible battle cry, turned against the Poles, and disrupted their formations, which had been compact until that time, in the midst of enormous slaughter, in which gloriously fell son of the Margrave of Moravia Dypold - duke Boleslav called Szepiolka -, with many other knights, and Teutonic master from Prussia Poppo with his units suffered a terrible defeat, and forces of the remaining unit of the Poles started to retreat.

Duke Henry, fighting very bravely, was not yet abandoned by all of his forces. But when the rest of the Poles dispersed during the flight, the Tartars encircled the duke in such a way, that he was being attacked both from the front and from behind. Despite this duke Henry did not abandon his fight and did not surrender, but killing encountered on his way enemies, he attempted to break through their crowd. However, the small handful easily succumbed to violence and suffered destruction by the superior enemy forces. Already there were just four knights around Henry: brother of fallen in the battle of Chmielnik voivode of Cracow Wlodzimierz - Sulislav, voivode of Glogow - Klemens, Konrad Konradowic and Jan Iwanowic. And when other [soldiers] are busy with fighting, these four, with the greatest effort and hardship, doing what they can, bring duke Henry out of the fighting ranks, trying to save him from the danger of death. Breaking through enemy lines, they want to keep the duke alive and prepare to escape with him, in order to make the defeat less painful and less shameful thanks to salvation of the duke.

Their plan maybe even would have succeded, but the ducal horse, wounded many times, could barely move. Therefore the Tartars recognized the duke from his badges and quickly caught him up. Henry, with three knights - because the fourth knight, Jan Iwanowic, detached from them - was hemmed by the Tartars. He fought against them for some time, supported only by his three knights. In the meantime Jan Iwanowic, breaking through the battle lines of the enemies, brought a fresh horse, received from ducal servant Roscislav, for the duke, and the duke, bestriding this new horse, started to follow Jan Iwanowic, who was paving the way through enemy forces for the duke.

Unfortunately, when Jan Iwanowic wounded during the escape, in spite of everything managed to escape, duke Henry lost all chances to escape and was for the third time encircled by Tartars. Deprived of all hope to escape, duke Henry again with great courage fights against the Tartars, once from the right side, once from the left side. But when he raised his arm, trying to cut the Tartar who blocked his way, another Tartar pierced him with a spear below his armpit. Duke Henry, hanging down his arm, slipped from his horse, mortally wounded.

Tartars, shouting loudly, in chaotic, incredible noise, captured the duke and drawing him outside the area of combats, at a distance of two crossbow shots from the battlefield, cut his head with a sword and, tearing all badges from his body, leave the naked body.

Also a considerable number of Polish lords and nobles suffered a glorious, martyred death for their faith and in defence of Christendom in that battle. Among them more famous and greater, as was already mentioned above, were: brother of voivode of Cracow Wlodzimierz, Sulislav; voivode of Glogow Klemens; Konrad Konradowic; Stefan from Wierzbna and his son Andrzej; son of Andrzej from Pelcznica Klemens; Tomasz from Piotrkowice and Piotr Kusza. (...) Jan Iwanowic, chased by 9 Tatars, during his escape managed to join with two of his squires and with another knight, Lucman - who also had two squires - and despite 12 wounds, which had been inflicted upon him, he [together with Lucman and their squires] attacked his oppressors, those nine Tartars, when they did a stop during the pursuit in some village one mile away from the battlefield, and killed eight of them, keeping the ninth one as prisoner. After those events he joined the monastery of Dominicans, where he lived devoutly and in fear of the Lord, grateful that the Lord of Heaven saved him from such a great danger. And duke of Opole Mieczyslav, accompanied by some knights, escaped to the castle of Legnica. He did not deserve to gain the palms of martyrdom for the faith of Christ together with so many knights. (...)

Duke Mieczyslav and his knights, who espaced to the castle of Legnica, later repulsed a Mongol attempt of capturing this castle.


Some parts of Długosz' account can be wrong (for example the story about smoke weakening Polish knights, or the fact that he gives confusing data regarding the number of units for which the Polish army was divided - at the beginning he says about 5 units*, then he mentions only 4 all the time - also what he says about the participation of Teutonic knights under Poppo from Osterna in the battle is wrong - in fact there were for sure some, but not very numerous, knights Templars, but rather no Teutonic knights - if anything, there could be only up to a few Teutonic knights with their squires).

*Including one Teutonic unit under Poppo von Osterna. And Teutonic knights were not present in the battle. So 4 units is the correct number.

Even if a few Teutonic knights were present in the battle, they were not numerous enough to form a separate unit (hufiec - in original).

Especially that Długosz already mentions a unit of "crusaders, foreign volunteers, etc." (it included also Templar knights) which was not numerous enough and had to be strengthened by gold diggers and levy infantry. So if any Teutonic knights were in the battle, they would be fighting with this unit.

Regarding the size of opposing forces:

According to modern estimations (for example Polish historian Jerzy Maroń, author of the most recent book about the battle, titled "Legnica 1241"), forces of Henryk II at Legnica could number ca. 4000 - ca. 5000 troops at most (according to 2nd revised edition of his book - in the 1st edition he actually estimated them as even smaller, but later he admitted that he underestimated the size of Polish forces, after another historian convinced him that they were in fact more in the range of 4000 - 5000 troops).

Mongol forces were at least nearly two times more numerous. So Długosz is right regarding numerical superiority of the Mongols.

It should be noted that although Długosz lived 200 years after Legnica, he made extensive use of sources from the 13th century. So his account can't be rejected as fantasy (especially that this is the longest and the most detailed account of the battle of Legnica which survived to our times). But participation of Teutonic knights on any significant scale in the battle of Legnica has been rejected by vast majority of modern historians. The main reason for this is that Teutonic Order's own sources from the 13th century (or any other sources from the 13th century) do not mention this (and there are no casualty figures of Teutonic knights from Legnica - while Teutonic Order recorded the deaths of its Brother-Knights in various battles - such figures exist for other major defeats of the Order).

Długosz took that info about Poppo von Osterna at Legnica from a 15th century legend of the Teutonic Order. It was a nice legend for the Teutons - after all, they considered themselves as defenders of Christendom, and in 1400s Legnica was famous as a historical battle in defence of Christendom.


And one more primary source:

Originally posted by king Wenceslaus I of Bohemia

(...) At that time when the Tartars were in Poland, we with our army were so close to duke Henry, that we could get to him with our entire force on the next day, after he fell. But he, oh woe, did not seek to our advice and due to this fact he was pitifully killed. Learning about this, we moved towards the borders of Poland, desiring to avenge them on the next day with God's help. But the Tartars, knowing our plan and intentions, escaped. (...)

Wenceslaus is actually not telling the whole truth. The Mongols did not escape, but instead marched to the Kingdom of Bohemia (region of Moravia) and then to Hungary, after they failed to capture the castle of Legnica (following their victory in the battle of Legnica).

Edited by Domen - 14-Apr-2013 at 16:08
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Centrix Vigilis View Drop Down

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  Quote Centrix Vigilis Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Apr-2013 at 16:16
Now that is an excellent reminder of the value of academic primary sources and credentialing of other then English speaking/nationalistic based academicians.

Not to mention the potential provenance and archiving of records in institutions and locations rarely perused, other then thru translation, by layman historians and authors.

The importance should be obvious.

Well done.
"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"

S. T. Friedman

Pilger's law: 'If it's been officially denied, then it's probably true'

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Domen View Drop Down

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  Quote Domen Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-Apr-2013 at 16:18
And let me underline this again:

The account of the battle by Jan Długosz, is the only surviving account which describes the battle of Legnica in details. All other accounts from primary sources describe it in just a few sentences, without any details regarding the course of the battle. Jan Długosz wrote his account 200 years after the battle, but he made extensive use of primary sources from the past which were known to him (and probably did not survive to our times).

So if we reject his account as "pure fantasy", then we will have to admit that we know not much about the battle. If we assume that what Długosz writes is false, then the only thing which can be said about the battle of Legnica is that 1) it really took place, 2) the Mongols won it, 3) it was not one-sided, but fierce (this is confirmed also by other sources, such as "Historia Tartarorum" and "Silesian Chronicle") and 4) one of reasons of the Mongol victory was an escape of some part of Polish forces (most likely forces of duke of Opole Mieczyslav). But not much more than these 4 points.

Długosz wrote the longest and the most detailed account.

Of course it doesn't mean that everything in his account is correct and true. For example the story about "mysterious" Mongol smoke weakening Polish troops looks like a poor excuse for the defeat made-up by someone after the battle - some kind of "urban legend".

Thanks Centrix Vigilis! I'm glad that you liked my post / translation of these accounts.



It should be noted that Legnica was not the only battle which took place during the Mongol invasion of Poland in 1241.

And Mongols suffered some casualties in those previous battles (even though emerging victorious). Historia Tartarorum says:

Originally posted by Historia Tartarorum

(...) Batu (...) sent with his brother Ordu ten thousand warriors against Poland, of whom very many, succumbing to confusion, fell in combat in borderland areas of this country, killed by Poles from the duchy of Cracow and of Sandomir. But because jaundice incites to very many mistakes, the Poles, in their lack of unity, neglecting the benefits which they gained, due to pride and hubris hating one another, were in a pathetic way massacred by the Tartars. (...)

I guess the part about "succumbing to confusion" can be referring also to the victorious for the Poles battle of Racibórz fought on 20 March 1241, in which - according to Polish accounts - about 400 Mongols were killed (however, Racibórz is by no means in the borderland area - so hard to say).

And further excerpt is most probably referring to the fact that forces of Polish lands / duchies were beaten separately, one after another, in a few pitched battles (Tursko, Chmielnik and Tarczek, finally Legnica). In each of those four battles Mongol forces most likely outnumbered Polish forces.

But the Poles learned from previous defeats - in the battles of Tursko and Chmielnik they didn't have any reserves - they just put all forces into one echelon. At Legnica duke Henry detached a reserve and deployed his forces in two echelons and kept one unit in reserve throughout most of the battle. This caused serious problems to the Mongols. Thanks to reserves at Legnica, the Poles could continue the fight and repulse one more Mongol attack even after forces of duke of Opole were broken and routed (as Dlugosz writes). Ironically, the battle of Raciborz on 20 March 1241 (a Mongol detachment was defeated there - not their main forces) was fought by duke of Opole Mieczyslav. The same one who later failed at Legnica.

It is also likely that the Mongols were receiving some reinforcements during the invasion - mostly from their vassal Russian states, located behind the Polish eastern and southern borders. Account of Długosz indicates that there were some Ruthenian troops in the Mongol army at Legnica.

Edited by Domen - 15-Apr-2013 at 04:37
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Domen View Drop Down

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  Quote Domen Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-Jul-2013 at 13:40
In his letter to King Louis IX of France, the Templar Grand Master in France Ponce d'Aubon wrote:

"(...) les nouveles des Tartarins, si comme nous les avons oies de nos freres de Poulainne qui sont venu au chapitre. Nous faisons savoir a vostre hautesce que Tartarins ont la terre qui fu Henri le duc de Polainne destruite et escillie et celui meismes ocis avec mount des barons, et six de nos freres et troi chevaliers et deus sergants et 500 de nos hommes ont mort, et troi de nos freres que nous bien connisonz eschaperent (...) Et si ont destruit deus des meillours tours et trois viles que nous avionz en Poulainne (...) Et sachiez que nostre mestre en Bohaine en Hongrie, en Poulainne et en Morainne n'est pas venu a nostre chapitre, mes il assamble tant de gent com il puet pour aler contre eus (...)"

Which translates to English, more or less like this:

"(...) these are the most recent news about the Tatars, such as we received them from our brothers who came from Poland to the chapter house. We inform your highness, that the Tatars destroyed and plundered the land which belonged to Henryk the duke of Poland who was killed by them together with many lords, six of our brothers, three knights, two sergeants and 500 of our people were killed, while three brothers well-known to us managed to avoid doom (...) They also destroyed two of our keeps and three of our villages in Poland (...)"

Most probably these "500 of our people" include also peasants from those 3 villages.

Regarding destroyed keeps - one of them was Templar keep in Oleśnica Mała:

The three mentioned villages were Chwalibożyce, Owczary and Jutrzyna:,_O%C5%82awa_County

Ponces d'Aubon also wrote about the size of Mongol forces in Poland:

"(...) And Your Highness should note, that their army is so huge - according to what the brothers who escaped death told us - that it extends to 18 miles in length and to 12 miles in width and during one day they cover similar distance to this between Paris and Chartres [90 km] (...)"

Size of Templar armed contingent which fought on the Polish side against the Mongols in the battle of Legnica is estimated as 68 - 88 soldiers (including nine brothers) by Edmund Burzyński in this article:

Go immediately to page 22 of 24 for English language summary.

Edited by Domen - 16-Jul-2013 at 14:11
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