An Example of Savagery Unprecedented in History: The Livonian War (1558-1582) - NovaSofya

An Example of Savagery Unprecedented in History: The Livonian War (1558-1582)

When we talk about the massacres that took place in history, we undoubtedly think of the period of Genghis Khan or the reign of Timur or the years of the Second World War. However, the history of humanity has witnessed many other savagery. The Livonian War between the Tsardom of Russia, the Lithuanian Rus’ and the Kingdom of Poland in 1558-1582 reveals a clear example of these atrocities.

Contemporary historians of the XVI century, such as Johannes Renner, Salomon Henning and Balthazar Russow, have given various accounts of the Livonian War. The common point of these authors is that they reflected in their works the kind of cruelties that the human mind cannot accept. As to these contemporary historians, the Russians are bloodthirsty sadistic barbarians. During the war, they stabbed the babies into stakes and divide the children.

They cut off the arms and legs of the adults and cut them into pieces. In order to remove their fetuses from their wombs, they put large stones in the abdomens of pregnant women and tried to crush them. They gathered 50 children and threw them alive into the well and filled to well with rocks.

Their savagery was not limited to these, it even turned to a planned and aesthetic cruelty. According to the information given by the sources, the Russians skin out men, placed gunpowder in the place where they skin out and blew him up. They burned some villagers alive while killing others in the fumes of the fire “just for pleasure.” They removed another person’s intestines, nailed one end of it to the tree, and then began beating him with a whip. This person could not even deign to escape the whip blows due to the stretching of his intestines.

The problem was not limited to torture, it even reached cannibalism. According to the information provided, the Russians removed the heart of a prisoner and ate the heart, which was still hot. Ironically, they pulled the tongue of a preacher with force. They threw the wounded persons in front of the hungry dogs and watched their death in delight.

Another of the most striking descriptions of this war appears in another chronicle written in Germany in 1561. According to the engraving given in this chronicle, Russian archers drill on mothers who are shaken by trees, hanging the hearts of their children over their heads.

But all this may have come from the exaggerated narrative of the sources that try to reflect the gravity of the war. Nevertheless, it is valuable in terms of showing the level of savagery that humanity can reach.

Sources Used:

Christopher Andrew, “İvan the Terrible and the Origins of Russian State Security”, Secret World; A History of Intelligence, London, 2019.

C. J. Halperin, “The Double Standard: Livonian Chronicles and Muscovite Barbarity During the Livonian War (1558-1582)”, Studia Slavica et Balcanica Petropolitana”, 126-147.

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