- Amanda Sumner
The Dobele castle is first mentioned in records in 1254 as a fortified timber castle, the administrative centre of the Semigallian Dobele district. Intense battles against German crusaders took place in the Dobele vicinity during the Livonian crusades. Semigallians fiercely resisted the enemy, who could not conquer the castle. Between 1279 and 1289, the Dobele castle withstood six sieges by the Livonian Order. In 1289, with the surrounding lands razed, Semigallians set fire to their own castle and departed undefeated to the lands of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy.
From 1335 to 1347, the Livonian Order constructed a stone castle in the place of the burnt down Semigallian castle. A craft and trade settlement formed around it. Between 1376 and 1562, the castle was the seat of the Dobele Komtur and his troops. The last Dobele Komtur Mathias von der Recke refused to submit to the Duke of Courland Godthartt Kettler after the dissolution of the Livonian Order and was forced to hand over the castle in 1566.
Courland Landtags took place at the Dobele castle in 1579, 1613, and 1628. The King of Sweden Gustav II Adolf’s forces occupied Dobele in 1620/1621 and 1625. Duke Friedrich Kettler’s widow Elisabeth Magdalena resided in the castle with her stepson Prince Jacob (the later Duke Jacob) from 1643 to 1649. In 1658, Swedes took over the castle during the capture of Duke Jacob. In the same year, Courlanders with the help of Polish forces attempted to retake the castle but did not succeed.
In 1660, following the Treaty of Oliva, Duke Jacob reclaimed the castle. An additional building was constructed at the eastern wall of the castle, but the fortifications were not rebuilt. In 1701, Swedish forces took the castle again and the King of Sweden Carl XII stayed at the castle for 6 days. During the war, the castle and the town were badly damaged. In the first quarter of the 18th century, a plague ravished Dobele and its surroundings, dwindling the population numbers. The castle was inhabited until 1736 when its roof fell in.
On June 24, 1870, the Courland song festival took place at the Dobele castle ruins. It was one of the first song festivals in Latvia, with the first national song festival taking place in 1873.
In 1915, Kaiser Wilhelm II presided over a military parade at the foot of the castle hill.
The following text is a translation of Ernests Brastiņš’ 1926 book Latvijas pilskalni (Latvian hillforts), Volume 2: Zemgale and Augšzeme. Some of the geographical and archaeological information may be out of date.
On the western edge of Dobele town, next to the road to Naudīte, a stone ruin can be observed. These are the remains of the former German Order castle. They occupy a triangular area from the south-west to the north-east, surrounded by steep slopes.
The stonework on the eastern side of the ruins is very old, while the wide south-western end, based on its appearance and historical records, is more recent. At a closer inspection of the site of the older stone ruins, it appears to be the former Semigallian hillfort.
This ancient hillfort was constructed on the narrow northern end of the current Livonian Order castle mound, which is separated from the rest of the hill with a wide ditch. The width of the ditch is still visible on the outside of the walls, whereas the part of the ditch inside the walls has been filled in and flattened. The rampart which should have been to the north of the ditch has also been flattened.
All in all, the ancient hillfort was comparable in both area and height to the average hillforts of Kurzeme and Zemgale. The height of the ancient Dobele hillfort in the east towards the Bērze river is 15 m, in the north 12 m, and in the west 9 m. Currently, there are ponds on the western side.
It is impossible to say what the hilltop and the earthworks looked like because the landscape has changed through later construction. Archaeologically, this site has not yet been explored, but there is no doubt that archaeological excavations will confirm the construction of the Livonian Order castle on the site of the ancient Semigallian “Doblen” castle.
At present, the castle ruins along with the ancient hillfort have been converted into a park and are protected from further destruction.
The ancient Semigallian castle of Dobele has been mentioned several times in the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle. Dobele area has also been mentioned in the ancient land division records of Zemgale.
Both the ancient hillfort and the Livonian Order castle have been described in detail by August Bielenstein, Karl von Löwis of Menar, Leonid Arbusow, and others.
Legends in relation to Dobele hillfort talk mostly about money. A tailor filled up a goatskin with coins, but the money was of no use. As much as he spent he had to put back, otherwise the rest would go missing. Bielenstein recorded a similar legend (Mag. XIV.)