Lodede suguvõsa algusest Eestimaal [Abstract: On the origins of the Lode family in Estonia]


  • Kristjan Oad Tallinna Ülikool




Lode, Christianisation, Livonian crusade, Canute VI, Valdemar II, hillfort


Abstract: On the origins of the Lode family in Estonia

In recent decades, the tumultuous events of the 13th century in the Eastern Baltic have begun to be thoroughly researched for essentially the first time since the beginning of modern historical research, as opposed to being often used for contemporary political propaganda.

This has already yielded significant results and considerably altered the age-old ‘big picture’ of near-total annihilation of the region’s elites and power structures by invaders. In many ways, the societal structures of the previous era continued and amalgamated with Western European political formats. Cultural Germanisation might have played a more wide-scale role among the elites than previously thought. There were invasions and immigration, of course, but the line between the winners and the losers of the many conflicts ran between specific actors and not along ethnic or religious fault lines.

Instead of sweeping generalisations based on isolated samples of evidence, in-depth studies of events and processes in different regions of the Eastern Baltic seems to be a promising research strategy. Following such analyses by other scholars on Saaremaa and Virumaa, this paper focuses on Northwestern Estonia, a region where the earliest available records present the Lode family as the dominant local actor. The paper gathers, compares, and builds upon previous research on the early history of the Estonian Lodes, with the aim of sorting out controversies, filling lacunae, and integrating the known bits of information into a coherent interpretation.

The paper finds that hypotheses arguing that the Lodes originated from Westphalia or the Archdiocese of Bremen seem to be unfounded. An identical or similar family name can be found in numerous Central European regions during the 12th–14th centuries, however the name appears in several independent instances and the different Lode families cannot be considered related based on the name alone. As for Westphalia or Bremen, other sources contradict the previously presented evidence. It altogether seems that the Lodes of those regions did not emigrate to Estonia.

The sources also contradict the hypothesis ascribing Danish origins to the Estonian Lodes. In 1229, the Lodes seem to have held considerable (if not de facto ruling) power in Western Estonia. However, after several years of intense battles against various adversaries around their fortification in present-day Tallinn, the last of the Danes who had arrived in 1219 had left the country in 1227. It is also not possible to associate the origin of the Estonian Lodes with the Swedish crusade to Western Estonia in 1220, as essentially all the Swedes who remained after the initial landing, including the top leadership, were shortly massacred by an army arriving from Saaremaa.

The stronghold of Koluvere in Western Estonia was among the earliest known holdings of the Lode family; the Teutonic Order forced them to abandon it together with most of their West-Estonian holdings in 1238. Koluvere, however, is a later name. The earliest recorded name of the place is Lode. A hypothesis has been put forward that the Lodes had arrived here from Germany in ca 1228 and that their stay of about ten years gave the place a (new) name which then remained for centuries. This paper instead proposes the more common process of the place-name becoming the name of the landholding family. The region is a lowland with many swamps and has place-names referring to wetlands; the place-name Lode could stem from Estonian words meaning marshland (lodu) or a temporary flood (looded). It is worth noting that during the wars of the early 13th century, this region did not witness such casualties among the local nobility as in some parts of Southern Estonia; instead, Western Estonia features numerous 13th-century tombstones with pagan warrior-aristocratic symbols mixed with Christian motifs.

Throughout centuries, the male name Odeward was emblematic among the Estonian Lodes. This paper finds that it seems to have been a version of the English name Edward, which was also occasionally written Odewardus. In one known instance in the late 13th century, the name of an Estonian Odeward Lode was written Eduwardus. The name Odeward/Edward was unknown in 12th and 13th-century Germany and Denmark. From early 12th century Sweden, a Jedvard (Edward) is known. This may be the result of missionary and ecclesiastical organisation in Sweden by English clerics, since that was also the period of the royally endorsed cult of Edward the Confessor as a proposed saint. During the same decades, Estonia stood out among the Baltic Sea countries as the one with direct trade relations with England, as indicated by numismatic evidence. It seems probable that the name Odeward/Edward spread to Estonia from England either via Sweden or directly.

In 1528, the Lodes used documents from 1196 and 1222 to win litigation regarding the estate of Loodna in Western Estonia. As summarised in the verdict (the original documents have been lost), the document from 1196 stated that an Odeward Lode was now a vassal of Canute VI, the king of Denmark, and held as fiefs Loodna together with several other estates throughout Northern Estonia. The document from 1222 stated that the same arrangement was in effect between Henrik Lode, son and heir of Odeward, and King Valdemar II, brother and heir of Canute. This paper concludes that these documents were authentic, since they are precise in the details regarding the times of events and the people involved. It would have been nearly impossible as well as impractical to produce such forgeries. Several cases of claiming false centuries-old association with the kings of Denmark to bolster legitimacy are known from medieval Estonia and Livonia. However, all such claims were grossly incorrect historically, as opposed to the exact match between these documents and surviving records from the 12th and 13th centuries.

The list of estates held by Odeward Lode, forming a kind of chain from Loodna in the west to Kohtla near Estonia’s eastern limits, is an intriguing object for future research. The fact that they are all located in the proximity of stronghold sites, certainly or possibly used around the year 1200, might offer a tentative explanation. As such, they might have been administrative centres for a territory beyond their immediate vicinity, similarly to the husabyar of contemporary Sweden or the kingstons of 10th-century England.

This paper finds that the hypothesis claiming that the Estonian Lodes initially had estates in Western Estonia and gained holdings in Northern Estonia only after 1238 is unfounded. Such a hypothesis would require making several cumulative assumptions regarding the politics of Northern Estonia in 1238–1241 that have no foundation in the sources and would in fact contradict what we know about the practices of the involved agents at the time. It can be surmised that the Lodes had large estates in Northern Estonia in 1241 (when the Estonian part of the Liber Census Daniae was probably compiled), but there is no direct information regarding when or how they acquired them.


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Author Biography

Kristjan Oad, Tallinna Ülikool

Kristjan Oad on Tallinna Ülikooli ajaloodoktorant.

Kristjan Oad is a PhD student of history at Tallinn University.






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