Lithuania remained pagan until the late Middle Ages and, as such, was an object of curiosity as well as hostility for Christian Europe. Paganism, wrote thirteenth-century Franciscan scholar Bartholomew the Englishman, was “ritus mirabilis”. Christian scholars who described pagan rituals did not shy away from negative stereotyping, although sometimes their writings give neutral, almost ethnographic descriptions.
In the thirteenth century Lithuanians had to face an onslaught of Livonian and German crusaders, great military organizations whose raison d’etre was war on non-Christian religions. For pagan Lithuanians, who had just formed military forces of their own, their faith played an equally important part in how they met the Crusader challenge. […]