Ust-Izhora & Narva, Russia (1240 AD & 1242 AD)
The Battle of the Neva and the Battle of the Ice were the two great victories of the near-legendary Russian leader Alexander Nevsky. Alexander, who was the Prince of Novgorod and other territories during one of the most turbulent periods in Russia’s history, ruled a young and fractious realm beset on all sides by enemies. Despite his youth, Alexander proved equal to the task, defeating two seemingly invincible enemies in the space of two years: the Swedes at the Battle of the Neva in 1240 and the Teutonic Knights at the now famous Battle of the Ice at Lake Peipsi-Pihkva. These two victories were instrumental in the security of Russia and ultimately helped lead to the foundation of the Russian Empire.
The realm of Novgorod was one of the earliest quasi-independent Russian states to emerge from the Mongol yoke in the 13th century. Because of its small size, remote location and the ongoing tribute paid to the khans, Novgorod was generally regarded as a small state on the fringe of European politics. For some of the greater powers in the region, it was regarded as a target for conquest. The first challenge came from Scandinavia in 1240.
In that year a large army of Swedes and their allies landed in the vicinity of what is now St. Petersburg, intent on conquering Novgorod and its important position on the trade routes to the Black Sea. According to some sources, the Swedish expedition was sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church as a crusade against their Orthodox cousins. The Rus, under Alexander, raised a large force to meet the threat, and the Swedes, apparently expecting little resistance, were not prepared. The Scandinavians were routed and forced to retreat to their ships.
The victory earned Alexander the title of Nevsky, and bolstered his reputation as a prince and military leader. His capabilities were put to the test again two years later, when an even greater threat came from the west. An army of German soldiers under the leadership of the Teutonic Knights invaded Novgorod bent on conquering the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. Again, this invasion was sanctioned as a crusade by the Church.
Once more Alexander Nevsky rallied the people of Novgorod. Although the army raised was about the same size, it was inferior to the Germans in terms of arms and training. Nevertheless the Rus employed brilliant tactics, dividing the German army and crushing it piecemeal. The coup-de-grace took place at the end of the battle, when the Teutonic Knights, crossing the frozen surface of Lake Peipsi-Pihkva in order to escape, were drowned when the Russians set about cracking the ice. Together these battles made Alexander Nevsky a national hero, and helped to set the stage for the establishment of the future Russian kingdom.
The Battle of the Neva took place along the Neva River near the modern-day town of Ust-Izhora. The exact extent of the battlefield is unknown. However, the most popular site related to the engagement is the Alexander Nevsky Monument which markes the site of the battle. The main site related to the Battle of the Ice is Lake Peipsi-Pinkva, now a popular summertime retreat. The battle sites are marked with monuments.
The Neva battlefield is located just outside the suburb of Ust-Izhora about ten miles southeast of St. Petersburg. Lake Peipsi-Pinkva is on the border with Estonia, approximately 110 miles southwest of St. Petersburg. All related destinations are open sites. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.saint-petersburg.com (official tourism website of St. Petersburg).