First Records of Durbe

For the first time Durbe was mentioned in 1230 in the contract about the acceptance of Christianity between the Pope’s envoy Baldwin von Alna and the Couronian King Lamekīns (Lamekins). Couronian settlements, including Durbe (named Durpis) as a more extensive district were mentioned in the contract written in Latin. Text in Latin and German you can find in www.herder-institut.de

Name of Durbe

Lake Durbe has given its name to the settlement. There are a few guesses about the origin of the name Durbe: it is linked to the Liiv word tūrba (fish). Another guess is tied to an old form of the word kūdra (peat). In Courland there is another place with the same name – it is Durbe Palace near Tukums (Tukkum). Word Durben is used in the historical documents in German. It is interesting that in Baden-Württemberg State in Germany there is the Carnival Society NV Durbestecher Sauldorf (Sauldorf Peat Diggers).

Battle of Durbe

The name of Durbe has gone down the history through the Battle of Durbe on 13th July 1260. In the 13th century the German Order (also known as Teutonic Knights) had already subjugated a lot of Liiv, Selonian, Couronian and Semigallian settlements and was trying to conquer also the Samogitians, who were successfully fighting back. The German Order assembled the Crusaders from Livonia and Prussia, the conquered Couronians, Estonians and Ancient Prussians as well as the vassals of Denmark King from the Northern Estonia to attack the Samogitians. It became known that the Samogitians had intruded into the Couronian lands. Forces of the Order fallowed the Samogitians and the impact took place on 13th July 1260 on a field beside the River Durbe. (Historian P. Stepiņš has localised the battlefield near the estuary of the River Trumpe in Lake Durbe.) Two chronicles provide the most important information about this battle: the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, which was written 30 years after the battle and Prussian Chronicle of Peter von Dusburg, which was written another 30 years later. The information given by these chronicles is contradictory about the behaviour of the Couronians during the battle. Either the Couronians left the battlefield or they attacked the forces of the Order from rear, because the knights’ allies did not agree to let free the Couronian wives and children the Samogitians had taken prisoners. At any rate, the Couronians’ actions affected the outcome of the battle. 150 knights, Livonian Grand Master von Hornhusen, Prussian Land Marshal Botel and a lot of warriors were killed in the battle. The Battle of Durbe is one of the most important events in the history of the Baltic Nations, and also in the German history it is known as a crushing defeat of the German Order.

After the battle the Couronians continued to fight back the German invaders, a rebellion in Prussia expanded into a war, but the Samogitians were never conquered.

Castle of Durbe

Lindale was the oldest German Order Castle in the area during the 13th and 14th centuries. Its name can be found in the document written in 1235, later it was renamed Oldenburg, Altenburg (Latvian – Vecpils). It was located 9 km north-eastwards from Durbe, in the former Vecpils Manor House on the left bank of the River Lāņupe (Lanupe). Lindale as the name of a Couronian County was known from the documents of land division between the Bishop and the Order. Year 1371 was the last time the name Lindale was mentioned in the documents.

The Order built a new castle beside Lake Durbe and named it after the lake and the river with the same name. The previous centre of the County had lost its importance, so it was called the Old Castle (Latvian – vecā pils – Vecpils). It is not known for sure, where Lindale was located. Behind Vecpils Catholic Church there is a Couronian Castle Mound, where later a cemetery was established. Researchers have been looking for Merķes Castle Mound there, but others have doubted it and suggested that the ancient Lindale was located there.

Durbe Order Castle was first mentioned in 1387. It was German Order’s Kuldīga (Goldingen) Commandery Household Castle located beside the main road that led from Mēmele (Memel) in Prussia to Livonia. It is believed that Durbe Castle was built between 1372 and 1387. On 11th November 1372 the Order’s vassal Winrich von Rommel became the suzerain of two villages Ilmāja (Ilmajen) and Okte (Ochten), but he was allocated a home-place in Kuldīga. Usually vassals settled in a place nearest to the Order’s castle. A plausible explanation is that there was not a castle in Durbe yet.

There was a castle settlement in Durbe in the 15th century, but in 1435 it burned down. It is known that in 1451 there was a church in Durbe, because in the Museum of Riga Dom Cathedral there was a bell with the inscription of the year.

During the time of the Courland Dukedom the town Durbe prospered, a lord (captain, Hauptman) nominated by the Duke lived in the castle. In 1701 Swedes broke in and ravaged the castle and the town.

In a description from 1809 it was mentioned that only pitiful ruins of the stone wall were left over from the castle.  There were 8.7 m wide residential complex all along the northern wall of the castle and cellars situated beneath it (nowadays cavities can be seen there). There were not any windows on the first floor of the outer wall.

Durbe – from Small Village to Town

A small village near the castle appeared at the beginning of the 15th century, but the buildings of the castle were mainly used as a storage place for goods, corn and taxes. It was confirmed by a document from 1555. When in 1560 Livonia as a country was near its breakdown, the Master of the Livonian Order Gotthard von Kettler pledged the castles of Kuldīga, Aizpute, Ventspils (Windau) and Durbe to the King of Poland. Polish garrisons were placed in these castles. When the Courland Dukedom was established, Durbe became the county of the Lord of Castle. The Duke’s garrison was located in Durbe Castle – musketeer and dragoon units.

During the first Polish-Swedish War (1600-1629) Courland was alternately conquered both by Swedes and Poles. After this war the Courland Dukedom experienced economic growth, especially during the rule of Duke Jacob Kettler. Also Durbe, where a linen weavers’ workshop was set up, was on the upbeat. The next Polish-Swedish war (1655-1660) was a severe blow to the economic prosperity. Taxes were imposed for Durbe both in money and goods. During the Great Northern War (1700-1721) Durbe Castle was destroyed and the small village dwindled. Courland became a province of the Russian Empire. The population of Durbe continued to shrink from 260 people in around 1720 to 130 people in 1843, when there were 22 wooden houses with straw and shingle roofs, one stone house, a church, a bell house, a school, a poorhouse and 3 pubs. Afterwards the population started to increase from 180 people in 1855 to 410 in 1881. But due to the development of Liepāja (Libau), the population of Durbe decreased again; there were only 360 people in 1897. In the 19th century the population of Latvians in Durbe grew. At the beginning of the century all free people were Germans, but in 1863 there were 60 and in 1881 – 180 Latvians.

In 1893 Durbe and 16 other small villages in Courland gained simplified town rights and on 20th November in the gathering of Durbe House Owners there were elected 12 authorised persons and 3 candidates. A gardener and an owner of the Orchard School Sīmanis Klēvers was elected as the first eldest of the town. On 28th June 1894 he gave the oath of office.

In 1929 in Durbe there were 12 shops, a post office, an infirmary and a doctor, a chemist’s shop, a 6 year elementary school with 8 teachers, the School and Education Association, which owned the school building and the library, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Volunteer Fire Association, 2 windmills, a carding mill, a dye-house, 3 smithies, 8 wood-working workshops, 1 leather-working workshop and 1 machine workshop, 10 vegetable and fruit farms, etc.

Additional information:

A.Caune, I.Ose „ Latvijas 12.gadsimta beigu – 17.gadsimta vācu piļu leksikons”, Rīga 2004

Karl von Loewis of Menar „Burgen-Lexikon für Alt-Livland”, Riga 1922