On April 5, 1242, on Lake Peipus the famous "Battle on the Ice" between the Teutonic and Livonian knights, and the army of the Russian city of Novgorod – led by Prince Alexander Nevsky – was fought.
Alexander Nevsky was a legendary Russian ruler, admired for his efforts in alleviating the Mongol oppression and his outstanding military skills. After his death, Alexander came to be venerated as a savior of Russia, and the Russian Church canonized him in 1547.
In the 1240s, Russia found itself in the clutches of the Tatar-Mongol’s Golden Horde in the east and the Holy Roman Empire in the west. Such a complicated situation required a very smart political figure to deal with the crisis.
Alexander defeated the Swedes on July 15, 1240, at the mouth of the Neva River (hence the nick-name "Nevsky"). There is little information as to how the Ice Battle of 1242 looked like and what strategies armies were employed. The common belief that the crusaders had a special formation, called ‘the pig’, is now being disputed due to a lack of evidence, as well as the myth that roughly half of the Teutonic knights fell through the ice because it was unable to withstand the weight of their heavy armour.
For Soviet propaganda, it was of great benefit to echo Alexander Nevsky’s actions as a struggle against a Catholic invasion. Today, many historians agree that the overall meaning of the two battles was overestimated. Occasional battles between neighbors were routine at the time. Princes could fight the Swedes, but at the same time extended trading schemes with them. The Russian Principalities themselves were known to cross swards with each other not once, and sought support from either the Golden Horde, or the West.
In 1938, the great Russian film director Sergey Eisenstein shot the movie Alexander Nevsky, which showed off the military glory of its namesake.
The Order of Alexander Nevsky was instituted in 1725. Although abolished in 1917, it was revived by the Soviet government in 1942.