The collection Making Livonia has an ambitious goal – studying the long term co-action between old and new actors and networks that were crucial in the development of the Baltic Sea region between the 12th and 17th centuries. More specifically, the conquest, governing, and society of the heterogeneous conglomerate that formed Livonia, largely known today as the sovereign states of Estonia and Latvia.
These issues are tackled in 14 chronologically divided chapters by renowned local specialists: The first part, chapters 1–8, deals with the 13th to 14th and the second part, chapters 9–14, with the 15th to 17th centuries, although there is much overlap. The collection does not follow a single methodological nor theoretical programme as described by the editors Marek Tamm and Anu Mänd in their introduction (p. 4). The chapters do share a conceptual framework, which sees the studied networks as dynamic, transient, interconnected activities, which are processual, formed and performed by both human and non-human actors. The concepts of relational, affiliational, socio-centric and ego-centric networks (p. 5) and language, specifically Latin and Middle Low German (conclusion, p. 327), form a thread connecting the chapters to each other. For this reason, it makes sense to look at the chapters on the basis of the topics and actors examined, instead of strictly adhering to the given chronological order.
The role and potential of ego-centric networks with varying levels of relational or affiliational support in the foundation of Livonia and the life histories of its residents is demonstrated in several chapters. Skilful network-building and the aptitude of the third Bishop of Livonia, Albert of Rīga (c. 1165–1229) in employing his family, the Buxhövden’s, to fill key positions in the emerging entity, laid the foundations of a common Livonia. This, as well as the fragility of such a system is expertly presented by Marek Tamm (Chapter 1).
Anu Mänd (Chapter 12) observes the life of merchant and Tallinn burgomaster Hans Viant (d. 1524), and Ivar Leimus (Chapter 13) follows the steps of mintmaster Paul Gulden (c. 1530–93). Both case studies vividly demonstrate the possibilities of career mobility in early modern Livonia. The interconnected network of specialists is shown to be no hindrance to newcomer Viant, but also to have provided significant support to Gulden throughout his life and travels in the region. One can only agree with Mänd’s call for a digital multi-source database and multidisciplinary approach (p. 273f.), which could provide ample opportunities for further reconstructions of lives long passed that played smaller or larger roles in “making” Livonia.
The role of individuals in network building is also visible in a wide range of socio-centric accounts: from neophytes (Chapter 4), land donations (Chapter 6) and Teutonic knights (Chapter 7) to city scribes (Chapter 9), the Cistercians (Chapter 10) and large family networks (Chapter 11). However, the main focus in these chapters is on the relational and affiliational bonds that the early settlers and later arrivals established and nurtured or tried to strengthen. The fundamental component of network building seen throughout the collection is mobility. Notably, this was not limited to the in-group, as shown by Ilkka Leskelä in his analysis of the 15th to 16th century branches of the Finnish Skalm family (Chapter 11), who can be seen as entrepreneurs profiting from the Hansa in non-Hanseatic towns.
Juhan Kreem (Chapter 7) demonstrates how mobility and migration were key parts in the “early human resources management of the [Teutonic] Order” (p. 159). As Kreem puts it, “The Teutonic Order existed in Livonia due to constant immigration” (p. 166), strengthened by the rotation of leadership and mobility as a career path. In a similar manner, Tapio Salminen presents a chronological study of the careers of Tallinn town scribes and the changes in their profession from the 13th to 16th centuries (Chapter 9). The focus here is on the creation and image-building of a legal structure and the institutional identity of the city (p. 194), using the agency of the scribes by means of professionalization of their office (data management through writing, paraphernalia, architecture).
The reasons behind the process of textualization (p. 192) are echoed in Anti Selart’s case studies of 13th century land donations to the church in Livonia (Chapter 6). Here, the authority and legitimacy of the presence of the church is shown to have been strengthened by using writing – “The legitimacy of territorial power or control over a land, when possible, needed to be confirmed by a charter, or at least, to be fixed as tradition in a chronicle” (p. 152). Writing is also demonstrated by Gustavs Strenga (Chapter 10) to have functioned as a tool for seamless continuation of historical tradition in the case of the physical transfer of the Cistercian community some 300km north from Daugavgrīva in modern-day Latvia to Padise in modern-day Estonia (p. 224–5) in the late Middle Ages. Similarly, the confraternity of prayers for the dead is shown as a tool to bond religious and secular institutions and form networks of commemoration (p. 225).
Perhaps the most original chapter in the collection is by Wojtek Jezierski (Chapter 5). Using a variety of methods from digital humanities, he is able to show how emotions are used and attributed in 13th-century chronicle writing to include or exclude the antagonists (the Christians, crusaders, neophytes) and adversaries (the pagans). Similarly, Linda Kaljundi (Chapter 4) highlights the role of crusade vocabulary and neophytes in gaining support for crusading activities and expanding the Christendom in missionary and crusade sources. Kaljundi’s paper also stands out for linking other chapters in the collection to her writing.
Non-human actors are not forgotten either, with examples from both ego- and socio-centric networks. Kersti Markus’s analysis of late 12th, early 13th century round churches (Chapter 3), demonstrates the Danish rulers’ goal to establish a network of physical markers of “their divinely sanctioned right to rule” (p. 87). Krista Kodres (Chapter 14) highlights a similar case with early modern Tallinn burgher homes, where the façades act as public calling cards (p. 303) and representations of the (ideal) self and confessions of faith. Marika Mägi opposes the dominant Central Place Theory in her chapter on the development and decline of Estonian hillforts (Chapter 2), using Actor Network Theory to focus on trade and the hillforts’ role in the pre-conquest 12th century. As stated by her, “polar opinions occur even in very recent studies” (p. 48) and it seems there is still room for further discussion. Tiina Kala’s analysis of the intellectual contacts of 13th to 14th century Tallinn (Chapter 8) is similarly wide in geographical reach to Markus’s paper but with multiple potentially likely scenarios – understandable in the light of her extremely fragmented source material.
Indeed, the collection’s strength lies in the variety of sources (manuscripts, art, archaeology) and the wide temporal and geographic scale. Presented by seasoned experts, mostly as results from extensive transdisciplinary projects, the authors do not forget the wider audience. In terms of geography, a more careful consideration of the position of the maps in relation to the text would have however benefitted the reading. That being said, most of the chapters are significant contributions to their relevant discourse, which are presented as an engaging overview of the formation, upkeep, and role of (social) networks in Livonia from the 12th to the 17th century.