Published Online – The Wendish Research Project (2012)
Introduction: The so-called Wendish Crusade of 1147 was actually part of the Second Crusade of the same time period. It was fought on German soil, largely by Saxon Germans (some Danes as well) against the pagan tribes of Wends. Since this ‘crusade’ was embedded into the whole of the crusade period, it has not been given the same attention as the crusades that went east toward the Holy Land. This one went north, into Slavic-held lands. It was fought ostensibly to gain pagan souls for the kingdom of heaven, but as was (and still is) common in ‘holy wars’, the kingdoms of man played a significant role in the motives and outcomes of the crusade. “The Crusade seems to be little understood in terms of how it was conceived and what it was supposed to accomplish… some say it was meant to subjugate the Sorbian (Wendish) minority using religion as a pretext, and others yet see it as a pure conversion effort.”
The etymology of the word ‘Wend’ comes from the Greek Venedi, a term which Pliny and Tacitus used to refer to the Slavs. The title of ‘Wends’ in the Middle Ages referred to a group of Slavic tribes who lived mainly between the Oder and Elbe rivers in Germany. This collection of tribes was distinctive from the northern groups of Slavs that inhabited Ukraine and Russia, and the southern group that lived mainly in what is now Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The history of the western Slavs, the Wends, is thus intertwined with that of Germany, the two groups intersecting time and again throughout the early to late middle ages.