Ecology of Crusading
Ecology of Crusading
Ecology of Crusading

Project overview

The Ecology of Crusading: The Environmental Impact of Conquest, Colonisation and Religious Conversion in the Medieval Baltic was a multi-disciplinary research programme with inter-disciplinary objectives, running from 2010-2014, funded by the European Research Council (within the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 263735). It was preceded by a series of pilot studies supported by the University of Reading, the Society of Antiquaries, the Society for Medieval Archaeology and local institutional funds.

Further background: Holy War in the North


A considerable number of people in various countries have contributed to the success of this project. This has included the core team, its partners, collaborators and advisors, alongside undergraduate and postgraduate students in multiple institutions who have been involved at various levels, particularly in excavations, and during the various stages of post-excavation analysis.

Project core team

The core team has consisted of Aleksander Pluskowski (Principal Investigator), Alexander Brown (palynology), Monika Badura (plant macro-fossils), Krish Seetah (zooarchaeology), Daniel Makowiecki (zooarchaeology), Rowena Banerjea (geoarchaeology), Lisa-Marie Shillito (geoarchaeology), Kevin Hayward (petrography), Marc Jarzebowski (written sources), Kaspars Kļaviņš (written sources) and Juhan Kreem (written sources). All geophysics work for the project was carried out by David Thornley.


Project partners

This project would not have been possible without the tireless support and collegiality of our partners across the eastern Baltic and in the UK. They are listed by country in alphabetical order and grouped according to institution, with co-directors of excavations indicated by *:


Heiki Valk*, Eve Rannamäe and Martin Malve (Institute of History and Archaeology, University of Tartu), Lembi Lõugas (Department of Archaeobiology and Ancient Technology, Institute of History, Tallin University), Siim Veski and Normunds Stivriņš (Department of Earth Sciences, Tallinn University of Technology).


Gundars Kalniņš* (Cēsis Castle Museum), Zigrīda Apala* and Oskars Uspelis* (Institute of History, University of Latvia), Eva Eihmane (Department of History and Philosophy, University of Latvia), Laimdota Kalnina (Faculty of Geography and Earth Sciences, University of Latvia), Māris Zunde (Dendrochronological laboratory, Institute of Latvian History), Agris Dzenis (independent), Uldis Kalējs (Architectural Investigation Group Ltd, Riga), Arnis Mugurēvičs (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Latvia University of Agriculture).


Linas Daugnora and Vladas Žulkus (Institute of Baltic Sea Region History and Archaeology, University of Klaipėda), Roman Shiroukhov (Department of Archaeology, Vilnius University).


Zbigniew Sawicki* and Waldek Jaszczyński (Castle Museum in Malbork), Marcin Wiewióra, Adam Chęć and Dariusz Poliński (Institute of Archaeology, University of Nicolaus Copernicus in Toruń), Maciej Karczewski* and Małgorzata Karczewska* (Institute of History, University of Białystok), Maria Kasprzycka, Mirosław Marcinkowski* and Joanna Fonferek (Archaeology and History Museum in Elbląg), Katarzyna Pińska (Department of Plant Ecology, University of Gdańsk) and Mirosława Zabilska-Kunek (Institute of Archaeology, University of Rzeszów), Seweryn Szczepański (Wojciech Kętrzyński Research Centre in Olsztyn).


Gundula Müldner, Stuart Black and Charlotte Scull (Department of Archaeology, University of Reading); Gary King and Chris Gerrard (Department of Archaeology, University of Durham); Ivy Yeh and Piers Mitchell (Department of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge), and Alaina Schmisseur (Department of Archaeology, University of York).

Steering panel

The project has benefited from guidance provided by Grenville Astill (Department of Archaeology, University of Reading), József Laszlovszky (Central European University, Budapest), Mark Maltby (School of Applied Sciences, Bournemouth University) and Anders Andrén (Institute of Archaeology and Classical History, Stockholm University).

Additional thanks

Numerous people have been involved at various stages of the project, particularly during excavations and periods of data collection in Poland, Estonia and Latvia. The team would like to particularly thank Magnus Elander, who photographed our fieldwork, sites and associated landscapes, prompting us to think in new ways about our data and the story we were telling. We would also like to thank Roberta Gilchrist, Nick Branch and Dominik Fleitmann (Department of Archaeology, University of Reading), for their continuing advice and support. We would also like to extend our thanks to the staff of the British Library, the libraries of the Castle Museum in Malbork, the Museum of Warmia and Masuria in Olsztyn, the University of Nicolaus Copernicus in Toruń and the Warburg Institute in London for their help with accessing maps and relevant source material. Finally, we would like to thank all the participants and hosts of the Terra Sacra conference which took place in Riga and Cēsis in 17–21 September 2014.



Over the course of the project we’ve given over 50 presentations in 17 different countries to a variety of academic and public audiences. This has included:

3.2.16. ‘Indigenous resilience under the rule of militarised Christian theocracies in the medieval eastern Baltic’. Public Research Seminar, University of Oslo, Norway.

15.2.16. ‘The Environmental Impact of the Baltic Crusades: New Understandings of Conquest, Colonisation and Religious Conversion in Medieval NE Europe’, Oxford Medieval Seminar, All Souls College, University of Oxford.

1.4.16. ‘The ecology of crusading: the environmental impact of holy war, colonization and religious conversion in the medieval Baltic region’, The Archaeology of Conversion Seminar, Workshop on Religious Conversion, University of Florida, USA.

2.3.15. ‘The Ecology of Crusading: The environmental impact of holy war, colonisation and religious conversion in the medieval Baltic’. Crusades and the Latin East seminar, IHR, UK.

11.11.14. ‘How conquest transformed northern Europe’ (inaugural lecture for the Stanford Europe Center). Stanford Archaeology Center, Stanford University.

9.10.14. ‘The Ecology of Crusading project: Investigating the ecological and cultural impact of crusading, colonisation and Christianisation in the eastern Baltic’. Vatican Museums, Vatican City.

25-27.6.14. ‘The impact of crusading and colonisation on animal husbandry in the medieval eastern Baltic’. Toponimia, Historia y Arqueología del Reino de Granada, University of Granada, Spain.

12.5.14. ‘Landscapes of holy war and colonisation: The ecological impact of the crusades in the medieval eastern Baltic’. The Columbia Center for Archaeology, Columbia University in New York, USA.

29.4.14. ‘Landscapes of holy war and colonisation: The ecological impact of the crusades in the medieval eastern Baltic’. Institute of Archaeology CAS, Prague, Czech Republic.

  1. 21.2.14. ‘The ecology of crusading: The environmental impact of holy war and colonisation in the medieval eastern Baltic’.McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge.
  2. 29.8.13. ‘The role of castles in physical and conceptual landscape transformation in the medieval eastern Baltic’. Turaida Castle Museum, Latvia.
  3. 4.4.13. ‘Key changes in the exploitation of animals and plants in the Baltic region associated with the establishment of the Teutonic Order’s state’. Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, Białowieża, Poland.


We had the privilege of working with Magnus Elander, who documented various aspects of the project – the landscapes, plants and wildlife associated with the ecological transformations of the crusading period, as well as our excavations and laboratory analyses. His work will be included in our publications and other outputs such as a future planned exhibition.

See Magnus Elander’s portfolio

In February 2014, we collaborated with Łukasz Dutkiewicz and his company of knights to re-create elements of a Reise or ‘campaign’ across the frontiers of the Teutonic Order’s state at the end of the 14th century. With the time and resources at our disposal, we aimed to simulate a small retinue traversing through the frozen landscape and this resulted in a series of striking and evocative photographs.

TV clips and short articles

Anda Pastare from LTV covers our excavations at Cēsis castle in late August 2011 (embedded with permission from LTV)

Article by Maria Kielmas on our presentation at the Estonian embassy in London, February 2011.

Environmental Crusaders“: article by David Malakoff on first results from Malbork, based on JAS paper.

Crusader Crisis: How Conquest Transformed Northern Europe“: article by Andrew Curry on project for Science (30 November 2012, Vol. 338 no. 6111 pp. 1144-1145). This article has been widely cited, and includes a small detail which needs to be clarified. The early medieval Prussians did not eat dogs. There is no evidence of this to date. There is evidence for horse consumption in ritualistic contexts amongst some of the Prussian tribes. This misunderstanding derives from a humerus fragment belonging to a large canid (dog or wolf) recovered from the early medieval Slavic settlement of Kałdus, which is in the Kulmerland – a region on the Slavic/Prussian frontier temporarily occupied by Prussians in the early thirteenth century. The bone had cut marks on it which can be interpreted as evidence for meat removal, but this cannot be extrapolated as a alimentary phenomenon amongst the Slavs, let alone the Prussians.

Stanford researchers find clues to the Baltic Crusades in animal bones, horses and the extinct aurochs“: article by Melissa Pandika following an interview with project zooarchaeologist Dr. Krish Seetah, who had recently taken up a tenure-track post at Stanford.

Baltic Crusades Caused Extinctions, End to Pagan Practices“: article by LiveScience staff for LiveScience. This one emphasises the misleading dog-eating reference as does:

Baltic Crusades left behind major ecological, cultural scars“: article on Science at NBC News.

“Ecology of Crusading”: article by Karen Schousboe for Medieval Histories.

An article on the project in World Archaeology by Lisa-Marie Shillito.

A Transformative Force: The Environmental Impact of the Baltic Crusades

An article on the project’s collaboration with the History and Archaeology Museum in Elbląg by the Elbląg Internet Gazette.