Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Europe was in turmoil for centuries, with the borders of kingdoms changing rapidly.  In the east the Roman Empire, which we call the Byzantine Empire, was alive and well for another thousand years.  By about 1400 AD though things were pretty well settled down and the countries and ethnic groups that we know today were emerging from the warring kingdoms and migrating tribes.

This is a picture of knights in combat from sometime in the 14th century. Public domain.

Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages

All was not peaceful and happy however.  From the east the Mongol Hordes were sweeping through lands killing, burning, and making former sovereign nations vassals.  Russia, administered out of Kiev, was a vassal of the Mongols in 1400 and soon other Eastern European nations would be as well.  In the north, the Teutonic Knights, a militant order of the Catholic Church, had gone on crusade among the Prussian kingdoms and converted the pagan people to Christianity by the sword.  To the south the Seljuk Turks were expanding and slowly breaking off pieces of the Byzantine Empire.  In the west, the Holy Roman Empire, in what we now call Austria and Germany, was pushing through the Eastern European kingdoms as well.

This is Golub Dobrrzyn Castle, built by the Teutonic Knights in around 1300 AD. It is located in what is now Poland. The Teutonic Order built castles all over Eastern Europe in their efforts to subdue and convert the pagans. Photo by Adam Kumiszcza, CC license, Wikimedia.

Map Exploration

Here’s what the map of Eastern Europe looked like in around 1400 AD:

Print out this outline map of Eastern Europe 1400AD  and color your own.


Label Teutonic Prussia, Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Hungary, Serbia, and Bulgaria.  Color the Eastern European nations.  On the map you see two important battles marked.  A battle at Lake Peipus in 1242 stopped the Teutonic knights from encroaching on the Russian lands.  The battle at Kosovo in 1389 stopped the Seljuk Turks from their northward march.  You may want to read more about these battles.

Additional Layers

  • If you are familiar with the song “Good King Wenceslas” you may want to look him up and learn more.  He is one of the very few good rulers in the history of the world.
  • The Hanseatic League was a group of cities that had special trade agreements with each other.  Learn more about them.
  • Learn more about the Khanate of the Golden Horde.
  • The Byzantines and the Western Europeans were both Christian, but different brands, and they did not get along at all.  Ostensibly the Crusades were to keep the Seljuk Turks from encroaching on Europe, take back the Holy Land, and protect the Byzantine Empire, but the crusaders actually sacked and looted Constantinople, the capital of Byzantium at one point.  Learn more about the differences between the Catholic church and the Greek Orthodox (descendant of the Byzantine faith).
  • The Carpathian Mountains are in Hungary and the Baltic States.  Learn more about these beautiful mountains.
  • The tale of how the Hungarian people came to the beautiful river valleys of Hungary is a beautiful one and told expertly in The White Stag by Kate Seredy.
  • This map activity is from Layers of Learning Unit 2-12.

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