In terms of fame the Teutonic order of Knights tend to come third after the Templars and the Hospitallers. Certainly in the Crusades of the Holy Lands they maintained only a modest presence.
The key focus for the Teutonics was the pagan tribes of the Baltic in the areas now populated by Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Russians and Finns. Their mission was to bring these peoples to God and they did this at the point of a lance.
Understandably the Baltic tribes did not just lie down and accept their fate. The Northern Crusades were long, drawn out, bitter affairs. Progress was measured in yards. Campaigning was possible in the normal Spring/Summer season when grass was available to feed horses. In a quirk of climate much of the fighting took place in the winter. Frozen rivers and lakes in this area of the world make veritable highways through the dense forest and scrub.
So it was that in the winter of 1336 a force of Teutonic Knights besieged the Samotigian hill fort of Pilénai. Accounts hold it that the defenders of the fort alone numbered 4,000 not counting women and children. The Teutonic Knights must have numbered many thousands because the inhabitants of Pilénai realised that they could not defend themselves from the besieging army.
In a grand gesture of defiance the Lithuanians set fire to their own fort to deny it to the Crusaders. Then, on this day, Feb 25th 1336, they committed what is the largest mass suicide in history.
A Song of Suicide; by Robert William Service
Deeming that I were better dead,
“How shall I kill myself?” I said.
Thus mooning by the river Seine
I sought extinction without pain,
When on a bridge I saw a flash
Of lingerie and heard a splash . . .
So as I am a swimmer stout
I plunged and pulled the poor wretch out.
The female that I saved? Ah yes,
To yield the Morgue of one corpse the less,
Apart from all heroic action,
Gave me a moral satisfaction.
was she an old and withered hag,
Too tired of life to long to lag?
Ah no, she was so young and fair
I fell in love with her right there.
And when she took me to her attic
Her gratitude was most emphatic.
A sweet and simple girl she proved,
Distraught because the man she loved
In battle his life-blood had shed . . .
So I, too, told her of my dead,
The girl who in a garret grey
Had coughed and coughed her life away.
Thus as we sought our griefs to smother,
With kisses we consoled each other . . .
And there’s the ending of my story;
It wasn’t grim, it wasn’t gory.
For comforted were hearts forlorn,
And from black sorrow joy was born:
So may our dead dears be forgiving,
And bless the rapture of the living.