When a corpulent German missionary visited the bear-worshipping Ugaunians of Estonia, they drew lots to decide whether to sacrifice him or an ox to their gods. He was lucky; but his successor, warrior-bishop Herman Buxhoeveden, needed no luck, using force of arms to establish the bishopric of Dorpat. Meanwhile, the neighbouring Republic of Novgorod was buffeted by successive invasions from Swedes and Mongols, and Herman scented the opportunity for further conquests. Leading a force of Teutonic knights and born-again Ugaunians, he confronted the army of Novgorod, led by a youthful Prince Alexander Nevsky, across the ice of a frozen Lake Peipus in April 1242. Bishop Herman’s charge was blocked on the ice by Alexander’s infantry. After hours of bitter fighting, Alexander threw in his cavalry, who overpowered the by now exhausted Knights. The Ugaunians were massacred, and the Knights never again challenged Novgorod.
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