Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Personal union with the Kingdom of Poland (1385–1569)
12th century – 1795 Chorągiew królewska króla Zygmunta III Wazy
Alex K Grundwald flags 1410-03 Grand Ducal Coat of Arms of Lithuania
Royal Banner Coat of arms
Lietuva ir Lenkija.Lithuania and Poland 1387
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1387.
Capital Voruta (13th century) (?)
Kernavė (aft. 1279–bef. 1321)
Trakai (aft. 1321–1323)
Vilnius (1323–1569)
Languages Lithuanian, Ruthenian, Polish, Latin, German1
Religion Polytheism (bef. 1250/1; 1263–1387), Catholicism (1251–1263; 1387–1569)
Government Hereditary Monarchy
Grand Duke
 -  1236–1251 Mindaugas (first)
 -  1548–1569 Sigismund III (last)
Legislature Seimas
 -  Privy Council Council of Lords
 -  Consolidation began 1180
 -  Kingdom established 17 July 1251
 -  Grand Duchy re-established Fall of 1263
 -  Union of Krewo 14 August 1385
 -  Union of Lublin October 24, 1795
 -  13th–14th century 800,000 km² (308,882 sq mi)
 -  1375 700,000 km² (270,272 sq mi)
 -  1490/3 850,000 km² (328,187 sq mi)
 -  1490/3 est. 4,250,000 
     Density 5 /km²  (12.9 /sq mi)
Currency Gold zlotas
Today part of Flag of Lithuania Lithuania
Flag of Ukraine Ukraine
Flag of Belarus Belarus
Flag of Poland Poland
Flag of Moldova Moldova
Flag of Romania Romania
Flag of Russia Russia
1. Polish was officially spoken by all kings after Jogaila, but Alexander I spoke and understood Lithuanian and Sigismund III maintained Polish and Lithuanian courts.

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th century[1] until 1795.[2] It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic Baltic tribes from Aukštaitija.[3][4][5] The duchy later expanded to include large portions of the former Kievan Rus' and other Slavic lands, covering the territory of present-day Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and parts of Moldova, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. At its greatest extent in the 15th century, it was the largest state in Europe.[6] It was a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state with great diversity in languages, religion, and cultural heritage.

Consolidation of the Lithuanian lands began in the late 12th century. Mindaugas, the first ruler of the Grand Duchy, was crowned as Catholic King of Lithuania in 1253. The pagan state was targeted in the religious crusade by the Teutonic Knights and the Livonian Order. The multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state emerged only at the late reign of Gediminas[7] and continued to expand under his son Algirdas.[8] Algirdas's successor Jogaila signed the Union of Krewo in 1386, bringing two major changes in the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: conversion into Catholicism and establishment of a dynastic union between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland.[9]

The reign of Vytautas the Great marked both the greatest territorial expansion of the Grand Duchy and the defeat of the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. It also marked the rise of the Lithuanian nobility. After Vytautas's death, Lithuania's relationship with the Kingdom of Poland greatly deteriorated.[10] Lithuanian noblemen, including the Radvila family (Radziwiłłs), attempted to break the personal union with Poland.[11] However, the unsuccessful Muscovite–Lithuanian Wars with the Grand Duchy of Moscow forced the union to remain intact.

Eventually, the Union of Lublin of 1569 created a new state, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. In this federation, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania maintained its political distinctiveness and had a separate government, laws, army, and treasury [12] This federation was terminated by the passing of the Constitution of May 3, 1791, and since then there was supposed to be but a single country — Respublica Poloniae — under one monarch and one parliament. The newly reformed Commonwealth was invaded by Russia in 1792, and partitioned between the neighbours, with a truncated state (principal cities being Kraków, Warsaw and Vilnius) remaining only nominally independent; and after the Kościuszko Uprising, partitioned among the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and Austria in 1795.


According to the Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania the complete name of the state is Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rus and Samogitia (Ruthenian: Великое князство Литовского, Руского, Жомойтского и иных).[13] The title of "Grand Duchy" was consistently applied to Lithuania from the 14th century onward.[14]

In other languages, the Grand Duchy is referred to as:

  • Belarusian: Вялікае Княства Літоўскае, Рускае, Жамойцкае
  • German: Großfürstentum Litauen
  • Estonian: Leedu Suurvürstiriik
  • Latin: Magnus Ducatus Lituaniae
  • Lithuanian: Lietuvos Didžioji Kunigaikštystė
  • Old literary Lithuanian: Didi Kunigiste Letuvos
  • Latvian: Lietuvas Lielkunigaitija or Lietuvas Lielkņaziste
  • Polish: Wielkie Księstwo Litewskie
  • Ruthenian: Великое князство Литовское, Руское, Жомойтское и иных
  • Russian: Великое княжество Литовское, Русcкое, Жемойтское и иных
  • Ukrainian: Велике Князівство Литовське, Руське і Жемайтійське|


Establishment of the state[]

Baltic Tribes c 1200

Balts in the 12th century

The first written reference to Lithuania is found in the Quedlinburg Chronicle, which dates from 1009.[15] In the 12th century, Slavic chronicles refer to Lithuania as one of the areas attacked by the Rus'. At first pagan Lithuanians paid tribute to Polotsk, but soon grew in strength and organized their own small-scale raids. At some point between 1180 and 1183 the situation began to change, and the Lithuanians started to organize sustainable military raids on the Slavic provinces, raiding the Principality of Polotsk as well as Pskov, and even threatening Novgorod.[16] The sudden spark of military raids marked consolidation of the Lithuanian lands in Aukštaitija.[1]

The Livonian Order and State of the Teutonic Order, crusading military orders, were established in Riga in 1202 and in Prussia in 1226. The Christian orders posed a significant threat to pagan Baltic tribes and further galvanized the formation of the state. The peace treaty with Galicia–Volhynia of 1219 provides evidence of cooperation between Lithuanians and Samogitians. This treaty lists 21 Lithuanian dukes, including five senior Lithuanian dukes from Aukštaitija (Živinbudas, Daujotas, Vilikaila, Dausprungas and Mindaugas) and several dukes from Žemaitija. Although they had battled in the past, the Lithuanians and the Žemaičiai now faced a common enemy.[17] Likely Živinbudas had most authority[16] and at least several dukes were from the same families.[18] The formal acknowledgment of common interests and the establishment of a hierarchy among the signatories of the treaty foreshadowed the emergence of the state.

Kingdom of Lithuania[]

Template:History of Lithuania


Lithuanian ancient hill fort mounds in Kernavė, now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Novogrudok ruin

Ruins of Navahrudak Castle. Current state.

Mindaugas, duke[19] of southern Lithuania,[20] was among the five senior dukes, mentioned in the treaty with Galicia–Volhynia. According to the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, by mid-1230s Mindaugas acquired supreme power in the whole of Lithuania.[21] In 1236, the Samogitians, led by Vykintas, defeated the Livonian Order in the Battle of Saule. The Order was forced to become a branch of the State of the Teutonic Order in Prussia. That meant that Samogitia, a strip of land that separated Livonia from Prussia, became the main target of both orders. The battle provided a break in the wars with the Knights and Lithuania exploited this situation, arranging attacks towards the Ruthenian provinces and annexing Navahrudak and Hrodna.[21]

In 1248 a civil war broke out between Mindaugas and his nephews Tautvilas and Edivydas. The powerful coalition against Mindaugas included Vykintas, the Livonian Order, Daniel of Galicia, and Vasilko of Volhynia. Mindaugas, taking advantage of internal conflicts, allied with the Livonian Order. He promised to convert to Christianity and gift some lands in western Lithuania in exchange for military assistance against his nephews and the royal crown. In 1251 Mindaugas was baptized and Pope Innocent IV issued a papal bull, proclaiming the creation of the Kingdom of Lithuania. After the civil war ended, Mindaugas was crowned as King of Lithuania on July 6, 1253, starting a decade of relative peace. Mindaugas tried to expand his influence in Polatsk, a major center of commerce in the Daugava River basin, and Pinsk.[21] The Teutonic Knights used this period to strengthen its position in parts of Samogitia and Livonia, but lost the Battle of Skuodas in 1259 and the Battle of Durbe in 1260. These losses encouraged conquered Semigallians and Prussians to rebel against the Knights.

Encouraged by Treniota, Mindaugas broke the peace with the Order, possibly relapsed into his old beliefs, and allied with Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod. He hoped to unite all Baltic tribes under the Lithuanian leadership. As military campaigns were not successful, the relationships between Mindaugas and Treniota deteriorated. Treniota together with Daumantas of Pskov assassinated Mindaugas and his two sons, Ruklys and Rupeikis, in 1263.[22] The state lapsed into years of internal fights.

Rise of the Gediminids[]

Kaunas - Castle 01

The ruins of the Kaunas Castle


Trakai Island Castle

From 1263 to 1269, Lithuania had three Grand Dukes – Treniota, Vaišvilkas, and Svarn. However, the state did not disintegrate and Traidenis came to power in 1269. He strengthened Lithuanian control in Black Ruthenia and fought with the Livonian Order, winning the Battle of Karuse in 1270 and the Battle of Aizkraukle in 1279. There is considerable uncertainty about the identities of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania between Traidenis' death in 1282 and Vytenis' assumption of power in 1295. During this time the Orders finalized their conquests. In 1274 the Great Prussian Rebellion ended, and the Teutonic Knights proceeded to conquer other Baltic tribes: the Nadruvians and Skalvians in 1274–1277, and the Yotvingians in 1283; the Livonian Order completed its conquest of Semigalia, the last Baltic ally of Lithuania, in 1291.[23] The Orders could now turn their full attention to Lithuania. The "buffer zone" composed of other Baltic tribes had disappeared, and Grand Duchy of Lithuania was left to battle the Orders on its own.

Gediminids dynasty has ruled Grand Duchy of Lithuania for several centuries, and Vytenis was the first ruler from the dynasty.[24] His reign saw constant warfare with the Order, the Kingdom of Poland, and Ruthenia. Vytenis was involved in succession disputes in Poland, supporting Boleslaus II of Masovia, who was married to a Lithuanian duchess Gaudemunda. In Ruthenia, Vytenis managed to recapture lands lost after the assassination of Mindaugas and capture the principalities of Pinsk and Turaŭ. In the struggle against the Order, Vytenis allied with citizens of Riga. Securing positions in Riga strengthened trade routes and provided a base for further military campaigns towards. Around 1307, Polotsk, an important trading center, was annexed by military force.[25] Vytenis also began the construction of defensive castle network along the Neman River. Gradually this network developed into the main defensive line against the Teutonic Order.

Territorial expansion[]

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Gediminas Tower in Vilnius (cropped)

Gediminas Tower in Vilnius


Mir Castle

The expansion reached its heights under Gediminas, who created a strong central government and established an empire, which later spread from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. In 1320, most of the principalities of Western Rus' were either vassalized or annexed by Lithuania. In 1321 Gediminas captured Kiev sending Stanislav, the last Rurikid to ever rule Kiev, into exile. Gediminas also re-established the permanent capital of Grand Duchy of Lithuania in Vilnius, which was presumably moved from Trakai in 1323. Some researches, including 16th century Maciej Stryjkowski[26] claim that Navahrudak was the capital of the 13th century state.

Lithuania was in an ideal position to inherit the western and the southern parts of Kievan Rus'. While almost every other state around it had been plundered or defeated by the Mongols, their hordes stopped at the modern borders of Belarus and most of the territory of Grand Duchy of Lithuania was left untouched. The expansion of Lithuania was also accelerated because of the weak control the Mongols had over the areas they had conquered. Rus' principalities were never incorporated directly into the Golden Horde. Instead, they were always vassal states with a fair degree of independence. The rise of Lithuania occurred at the ideal time when they could expand while meeting very little resistance in the territories populated by East Slavs and only limited opposition from the Mongols. At the Battle at Blue Waters (1362) regiments of the United army of Grand Duchy defeated the army of the Golden Horde.[27] The battle took place almost 20 years before the Battle of Kulikovo.

But Grand Duchy of Lithuania was not built only on military aggression, as its existence always depended on diplomacy just as much as on arms. Most, while not all, cities it annexed were never defeated in battle but agreed to be vassals of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Since most of them were already vassals of the Golden Horde or of the Grand Prince of Moscow, such a decision was not one of giving up independence but rather of exchanging one master for another. This can be seen in the case of Novgorod, which was often brought into the Lithuanian sphere of influence and became an occasional dependency of Grand Duchy of Lithuania.[28] Rather, Lithuanian control was the result of internal frictions within the city, which attempted to escape submission to Muscovy. This method of building the state was, however, unstable. The change of internal politics within a city could pull it out of Lithuania's control, as happened on a number of occasions with Novgorod and other East-Slavic cities.

Union with Poland[]

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Polska 1386 - 1434

Poland and Lithuania 1386-1434

Chrzest Litwy 1387 Matejko

"Christianization of Lithuania in 1387", oil on canvas by Jan Matejko, 1889, Royal Castle in Warsaw

Lithuania was Christianized in 1387. Christianization was led by Jogaila, who personally translated Christian prayers into the Lithuanian language.[29] The state reached a peak under Vytautas the Great, who reigned from 1392 to 1430. Vytautas was one of the most famous rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. He was the Grand Duke from 1401–1430, also the Prince of Hrodna (1370–1382) and the Prince of Lutsk (1387–1389). Vytautas was the son of Kęstutis, cousin of Jogaila, who became King of Poland in 1386, and grandfather of Vasili II of Moscow. In 1410, Vytautas himself commanded the forces of the Grand Duchy in the Battle of Grunwald. The battle ended in a decisive Polish-Lithuanian victory against the Teutonic Order. Vytautas backed economic development of his state and introduced many reforms. Under his rule, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania slowly became more centralized, as the governors loyal to Vytautas replaced local princes with dynastic ties to the throne. The governors were rich landowners who formed the basis for the nobility of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. During Vytautas' rule, the Radziwiłł and Goštautas families started to gain influence.

The speedy expansion of Muscovy's influence soon put it into a position to rival Grand Duchy of Lithuania, however, and after the annexation of Novgorod in 1478, Muscovy was unquestionably the preeminent state in Northeastern Europe. Between 1492 and 1508, Ivan III, after winning the key Battle of Vedrosha, regained such ancient lands of Rus as Chernigov and Bryansk.

The Battle of Orsha was fought on 8 September 1514, between the allied forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Kingdom of Poland, under the command of Hetman Konstanty Ostrogski, and the army of Grand Duchy of Moscow under Konyushy Ivan Chelyadnin and Kniaz Mikhail Golitsin. The Battle of Orsha was part of a long series of Muscovite–Lithuanian Wars conducted by Russian rulers striving to gather all the lands of former Kievan Rus' under their rule. According to Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii by Sigismund von Herberstein, the primary source for the information on the battle, the much smaller army of Poland–Lithuania (under 30,000 men) defeated the 80,000 Russian soldiers, capturing their camp and commander. Russian lost about 30,000 men, when Poland–Lithuania army only 500. While the battle is remembered as one of the greatest Lithuanian victories, it had little impact on further warfare which ended in Moscow's favor. According to the 1522 peace treaty, the Grand duchy of Lithuania made large territorial concessions to Moscow.

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth[]

Litvania map 1570

1570 map

Rzeczpospolita voivodships

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth c.a. 1635

The loss of land to Moscow and the continued pressure threatened the survival of the state of Lithuania, so it was forced to ally more closely with Poland, uniting with its western neighbor as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Commonwealth of Two Nations) in the Union of Lublin of 1569. According to the Union many of the territories formerly controlled by the largely Ruthenized[30] Grand Duchy of Lithuania were transferred to the Crown of the Polish Kingdom, while the gradual process of Polonization slowly drew Lithuania itself under Polish domination.[30][31][32] The Grand Duchy retained many rights in the federation (including a separate government, treasury and army) until the May Constitution of Poland was passed in 1791.

Partitions and the Napoleonic period[]

Following the Partitions of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, most of the lands of the former Grand Duchy were directly annexed by the Russian Empire rather than attached to the Kingdom of Poland, a rump state in personal union with Russia. However, in 1812, soon before the French invasion of Russia, the lands of the former Grand Duchy revolted against the Russians. Soon after his arrival to Vilnius, Napoleon proclaimed the creation of a Commissary Provisional Government of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which in turn renewed the Polish-Lithuanian Union.[33] However, the union was never formalized, as only half a year later Napoleon's Grande Armée was pushed out of Russia and forced to retreat further westwards. In December 1812, Vilnius was recaptured by Russian forces, bringing all plans of recreation of the Grand Duchy to an end.[33]


In 1260 the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the land of Lithuania, and ethnic Lithuanians formed majority (67.5%) of its 0.4 million population.[34] With the acquisition of new Ruthenian territories, in 1340 this portion decreased to 30%[35] By the time of the largest expansion towards Rus' lands, which came at the end of the 13th and during the 14th century, the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was 800 to 930 thousand km2, just 10% to 14% of which was ethnically Lithuanian.[34][36]

An estimate of the population in the territory of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania together gives a population at 7.5 million for 1493, breaking them down by ethnicity at 3.75 million Ruthenians (ethnic Ukrainians, Belarusians), 3.25 million Poles and 0.5 million Lithuanians.[37] With the Union of Lublin, 1569, Lithuanian Grand Duchy lost large part of lands to the Polish Crown.

See also: Demographics of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

In the mid and late 17th century, due to Russian and Swedish invasions, there was much devastation and population loss on throughout the Grand Duchy of Lithuania,[38] including ethnic Lithuanian population in Vilnius surroundings. Besides devastation, Ruthenian population declined proportionally after the territorial losses to Russian Empire. By 1770 there were about 4.84 million inhabitants in the territory of 320 thousand km2, the biggest part of whom were inhabitants of Ruthenia and about 1.39 million or 29% – of ethnic Lithuania.[34] During the following decades, the population decreased in a result of partitions.[34]


In the 13th century, the center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, was inhabited by a majority which spoke Lithuanian,[39] but it was not a written language till 16th century.[40] In the other parts of the duchy, the majority of the population, including Ruthenian nobles and normal people used both spoken and written Ruthenian languages.[39] Nobles who migrated from one place to another would adapt to a new locality and adopt the local religion and culture and those Lithuanian noble families which moved to Slavic areas, often took up the local culture quickly over subsequent generations.[41] Ruthenians were native to the east-central and south-eastern parts of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

The Ruthenian language, also called Chancery Slavonic in its written form, was used to write laws alongside Lithuanian, Latin and German, but use varied between regions. From the time of Vytautas, there are fewer remaining documents written in Ruthenian than there are in Latin and German, but later Ruthenian became the main language of documentation and writings, especially in eastern and southern parts of the Duchy. In the 16th century at the time of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Lithuanian lands became increasingly polonized over time and started to use the Polish language instead of the Lithuanian and Ruthenian languages and Polish officially became the chancellery language of the Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth in 1697.[41][42][43][44]

The voivodeships with the predominant ethnic Lithuanian population, Vilnius, Trakai and Samogitian voivodeships, remained almost wholly Lithuanian speaking, both colloquially and by ruling nobility. In the extreme southern parts of Trakai voivodeship, and south-eastern parts of Vilnius voivodeship Ruthenian communities were also present. In addition to Lithuanians and Ruthenians, other important ethnic groups on throughout the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were Jews and Tatars.[41] Vilnius city population and its surroundings were multi-ethnic, among languages spoken here, there were Lithuanian, Polish, Belarusian, Yiddish, German also Tatar, Karaim etc.

Languages used for state and academic purposes within the Grand Duchy[]


Tribunal of Grand Duchy of Lithuania, written in Ruthenian, 1586

Numerous languages were used in state documents depending on which period in history and for what purpose. These languages included Lithuanian, Ruthenian (East Slavonic; Old Belarusian or Old Ukrainian),[44][45] Polish and, to a lesser extent (mostly in diplomatic communication), Latin and German.[40][41][43]

The Court used Ruthenian to correspond with Eastern countries while Latin and German were used in foreign affairs with Western countries.[44][46] During the latter part of the history of the Grand Duchy, Polish was increasingly used in State documents, especially after the Union of Lublin.[43] By 1697, Polish had largely replaced Ruthenian as the "official" language at Court [40][44][47] although Ruthenian continued to used on a few official documents until the second half of the 18th century.[42]

Usage of the Lithuanian language still continued at Court after the death of Vytautas and Jogaila while Grand Duke Alexander I could understand and speak Lithuanian. The last Grand Duke, Zygmunt August, maintained both Polish- and Lithuanian-speaking courts.[48]

From the beginning of the 16th century, and especially after a rebellion led by Michael Glinski in 1508, there were attempts by the Court to replace the usage of Ruthenian with Latin.[49] But the Ruthenian tongue had deep cultural roots. Its use by academics in areas formerly part of Rus' and even in Lithuania proper was widespread. Court Chancellor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Lew Sapieha, noted in the preface of the Third Statute of Lithuania (1588) that this code was to be written exclusively in Ruthenian.

And clerk must use ruthenian letters and ruthenian words in all pages, letters and requests, and not any other language or words...
А писаръ земъский маеть по-руску литерами и словы рускими вси листы, выписы и позвы писати, а не иншимъ езыкомъ и словы...The Statute of GPL 1588. Part 4, article 1[50]

Nonetheless, Mikalojus Daukša, writing in Polish, noted in his Postilla (1599) that many people, especially szlachta, preferred to speak Polish rather than Lithuanian, but spoke Polish poorly. Such were the linguistic trends in the Grand Duchy that by the political reforms of 1564–1566 parliaments local land courts, appellate courts and other State functions were recorded in Polish.[49] and Polish became increasingly spoken across all social classes.

Lithuanian language situation[]

Lithuanian language in the 16th century

Area of the Lithuanian language in the 16th century

Lithuanian, Ruthenian and Polish languages were used as state languages of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, besides Latin and German in diplomatic correspondence. Vilnius, Trakai and Samogitian were the core voivodeships of the state, being part of Lithuania Proper, as evidenced by the privileged position of their governors in state authorities, such as the Council of Lords. Peasants in ethnic Lithuanian territories spoke exclusively Lithuanian, except transitional border regions, but the Statutes of Lithuania and other laws and documentation were written in Ruthenian. Following the royal court, there was tendency to replace Lithuanian with Polish in the ethnic Lithuanian areas, whereas Ruthenian was stronger in ethnic Belarusian and Ukrainian territories. There is Sigismund von Herberstein's note left, that there were in an ocean of Russian language in this part of Europe two non Ruthenian regions: Lithuania and Samogitia.[49]

At one point in the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the higher strata of Lithuanian society from ethnic Lithuania spoke Lithuanian, although since the later 16-th century gradually began using Polish, and from Belarus – Old Belarusian. Samogitia was exclusive through state in its economical situation – it lain near ports and there were fewer people under corvee, instead of that, many simple people were money payers. As a result, the stratification of the society was not as sharp as in other areas. Being more similar to a simple population the local szlachta spoke Lithuanian to a bigger extent than in the areas close to the capital Vilnius, which itself had become a center of intensive linguistic Polonization of surrounding areas since 18th century.

In Vilnius University there are preserved texts written in the Lithuanian language of the Vilnius area, lying south-eastwards from Vilnius, then called Lithuanian language, today called a dialect of Eastern Aukštaitian. The source are preserved in works of graduates from Stanislovas Rapalionis Vilnius based Lithuanian language school graduate Martynas Mažvydas and Rapalionis relative Abraomas Kulvietis.

One of the main sources of Lithuanian written and common language is Eastern Aukštaitian dialect (Vilnius dialect), preserved in the Konstantinas Sirvydas in a trilingual (Polish-Latin-Lithuanian) 17th-century dictionary, the main Lithuanian language dictionary used until the late 19th century.


Grunwald bitwa

Battle of Grunwald. Center figures are Ulrich von Jungingen and Vytautas

Despite Lithuania's mainly peaceful acquisition of much of its Ruthenian holdings, it could call upon military strength if needed, and it was the only power in North-Eastern Europe that could effectively contend with the Golden Horde. When the Golden Horde did try to prevent Lithuanian expansion they were often rebuffed. In 1333 and 1339, Lithuanians defeated large Mongol forces attempting to regain Smolensk from the Lithuanian sphere of influence. By about 1355, the State of Moldavia had formed. The Golden Horde did little to re-vassalize the area. In 1387, Moldavia became a vassal of Poland and, in a broader sense, Lithuania. By this time, Lithuania had conquered the territory of the Golden Horde all the way to the Dnieper River. In a crusade against the Golden Horde in 1398 (in an alliance with Tokhtamysh), Lithuania invaded northern Crimea and won a decisive victory. Then in 1399, Lithuania (intent on placing Tokhtamish on the Golden Horde throne) moved against the Horde. In the Battle of the Vorskla River, however, Lithuania was crushed by the Horde and lost the steppe region.

Religion and culture[]

Vilnius St Anns church

St. Anne's Church and the church of the Bernardine Monastery in Vilnius

Kaunas - St

St. George church (1487) in Kaunas


Vilnius University and the Church of St. John

After the baptism in 1252 and coronation of King Mindaugas in 1253, Lithuania was recognized as a Christian state until 1260, when Mindaugas supported an uprising in Courland and (according to the German order) renounced Christianity. Up until 1387, Lithuanian nobles professed their own religion, which was polytheistic. Ethnic Lithuanians were very dedicated to their faith. The pagan beliefs needed to be deeply entrenched to survive strong pressure from missionaries and foreign powers. Until the seventeenth century there were relics of old faith reported by counter-reformation active Jesuit priests, like feeding žaltys with milk or bringing food to graves of ancestors.

The lands of modern-day Belarus and Ukraine, as well as local dukes (princes) in these regions, were firmly Orthodox Christian (Greek Catholic after the Union of Brest), though. While pagan beliefs in Lithuania were strong enough to survive centuries of pressure from military orders and missionaries, they did eventually succumb. In 1387, Lithuania converted to Catholicism, while most of the Ruthenian lands stayed Orthodox. There was an effort to polarize Orthodoxes after the Union of Brest in 1596, by which Orthodox Greek Catholics acknowledged papal authority and Catholic catechism, but preserved Orthodox liturgy. Country also became one of the major centers of reformation.

In the second half of the 17h century Calvinism spread in Lithuania, supported by the families of Radziwiłł, Chodkiewicz, Sapieha, Dorohostajski and others. By 1580s the majority of the senators from Lithuania were Calvinist or Socinian Unitarians (Jan Kiszka).

In 1579, Stefan Batory, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, founded Vilnius University, one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe. Due to the work of the Jesuits during the Counter-Reformation the university soon developed into one of the most important scientific and cultural centers of the region and the most notable scientific center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.[51] The work of the Jesuits as well as conversions from among the Lithuanian senatorial families turned the tide and by 1670s Calvinism lost its former importance though it still retained some influence among the ethnically Lithuanian peasants and some middle nobility, by then thoroughly Polonized.



The Statute of Grand Duchy of Lithuania written in ruthenian language

Mazvydo katekizmas

The first printed book in Lithuanian language The Simple Words of Catechism (by Martynas Mažvydas). Book was dedicated to Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

According to some historians (especially in Russia), one of the most crucial effects of Lithuanian rule was ethnic divisions amongst the inhabitants of former Kievan Rus'. From this point of view, the creation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania played a major role in the division of Eastern Slavs. After the Mongolian conquest of Rus', Mongols attempted to keep Eastern Slavs unified and succeeded in conquering most of Ruthenian lands.

Prussian tribes (of Baltic origin) were attacking Masovia, and that was the reason Duke Konrad of Masovia invited the Teutonic Knights to settle near the Prussian area of settlement. The fighting between Prussians and the Teutonic Knights gave the more distant Lithuanian tribes time to unite. Because of strong enemies in the south and north, the newly formed Lithuanian state concentrated most of its military and diplomatic efforts on expansion eastward.

The rest of former Ruthenian lands (Belarusian principalities) joined the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the very beginning. Some other lands in Ukraine were vassalized by Lithuania later. The subjugation of Eastern Slavs by two powers created substantial differences that persist to this day. According to this claim, while under Kievan Ruthenia there were certainly substantial regional differences, it was the Lithuanian annexation of much of southern and western Ruthenia that led to the permanent division between Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians.

Others argue, that the ethnic and linguistic divisions amongst inhabitants of Ruthenia were not initiated by division of this area between Mongols and Lithuania, and are older than the creation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. They state that until the twentieth century, ethnic and linguistic frontiers between Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians coincided with no political borders.

Notwithstanding the above, Lithuania was a kingdom under Mindaugas I, who was conditionally crowned by authority of Pope Innocent IV in 1253. Gediminas and Vytautas the Great also assumed the title of King, although uncrowned. A failed attempt was made in 1918 to restore the Kingdom under German Prince Urach.

See also[]

Notes and references[]

  1. ^ a b T. Baranauskas. Lietuvos valstybės ištakos. Vilnius, 2000
  2. ^ Sužiedėlis, Saulius. Historical dictionary of Lithuania (2nd ed. ed.). Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press. pp. 119. ISBN 978-0-8108-4914-3. 
  3. ^ Rowell S.C. Lithuania Ascending: A pagan empire within east-central Europe, 1295-1345. Cambridge, 1994. p.289-290
  4. ^ Ch. Allmand, The New Cambridge Medieval History. Cambridge, 1998, p. 731.
  5. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica. Grand Duchy of Lithuania
  6. ^ R. Bideleux. A History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change. Routledge, 1998. p. 122
  7. ^ Rowell, Lithuania Ascending, p.289.
  8. ^ Z. Kiaupa. "Algirdas ir LDK rytų politika." Gimtoji istorija 2: Nuo 7 iki 12 klasės (Lietuvos istorijos vadovėlis). CD. (2003). Elektroninės leidybos namai: Vilnius.
  9. ^ N. Davies. Europe: A History. Oxford, 1996, p. 392.
  10. ^ J. Kiaupienė. Gediminaičiai ir Jogailaičiai prie Vytauto palikimo. Gimtoji istorija 2: Nuo 7 iki 12 klasės (Lietuvos istorijos vadovėlis). CD. (2003) Elektroninės leidybos namai: Vilnius.
  11. ^ J. Kiaupienë, "Valdžios krizës pabaiga ir Kazimieras Jogailaitis." Gimtoji istorija 2: Nuo 7 iki 12 klasės (Lietuvos istorijos vadovėlis). CD. (2003). Elektroninės leidybos namai: Vilnius.
  12. ^ D. Stone. The Polish-Lithuanian state: 1386-1795. University of Washington Press, 2001, p. 63.
  13. ^ Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (1529), Part. 1., Art. 1.: «На первей преречоным прелатом, княжатом, паном, хоруговым, шляхтам и местом преречоных земель Великого князства Литовского, Руского, Жомойтского и иных дали есмо:...»; According to.: Pervyi ili Staryi Litovskii Statut // Vremennik Obschestva istorii i drevnostei Rossiiskih. 1854. Book 18. p. 2-106. P. 2.
  14. ^ E. Bojtár. Forward to the Past: A Cultural History of the Baltic People. Central European University Press, 1999 p. 179
  15. ^ Encarta.Lithuania. Accessed September 21, 2006. Archived 2009-10-31.
  16. ^ a b Encyclopedia Lituanica. Boston, 1970-1978, Vol.5 p.395
  17. ^ Lithuania Ascending p.50
  18. ^ A. Bumblauskas, Senosios Lietuvos istorija, 1009–1795 [The early history of Lithuania], Vilnius, 2005, p. 33.
  19. ^ By contemporary accounts, the Lithuanians called their early rulers kunigas (kunigai in plural). The word was borrowed from the German languagekuning, konig. Later on kunigas was replaced by the word kunigaikštis, used to describe to medieval Lithuanian rulers in modern Lithuanian, while kunigas today means priest.
  20. ^ Z.Kiaupa, J. Kiaupienė, A. Kunevičius. The History of Lithuania Before 1795. Vilnius, 2000. p. 43-127
  21. ^ a b c V. Spečiūnas. Lietuvos valdovai (XIII-XVIII a.): Enciklopedinis žinynas. Vilnius, 2004. p. 15-78.
  22. ^ Senosios Lietuvos istorija p. 44-45
  23. ^ Kiaupa, Zigmantas; Jūratė Kiaupienė, Albinas Kunevičius (2000) [1995]. "Establishment of the State". The History of Lithuania Before 1795 (English ed.). Vilnius: Lithuanian Institute of History. pp. 45–72. ISBN 9986-810-13-2. 
  24. ^ Lithuania Ascending p.55
  25. ^ New Cambridge p.706
  26. ^ Maciej Stryjkowski (1985). Kronika polska, litewska, żmódzka i wszystkiéj Rusi Macieja Stryjkowskiego. Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe. pp. 572. 
  27. ^ Battle at Blue Waters (Ukrainian Pravda)
  28. ^ Glenn Hinson. The Church Triumphant: A History of Christianity Up to 1300. 1995, p.438
  29. ^ Jerzy Kloczowski, A History of Polish Christianity, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 55.
  30. ^ a b "Within the [Lithuanian] Grand Duchy, the Ruthenian lands initially retained considerable autonomy. The pagan Lithuanians themselves were increasingly converting to Orthodoxy and assimilating into Ruthenian culture. The grand duchy's administrative practices and legal system drew heavily on Slavic customs, and Ruthenian became the official state language. Direct Polish rule in Ukraine since the 1340s and for two centuries thereafter was limited to Galicia. There, changes in such areas as administration, law, and land tenure proceeded more rapidly than in Ukrainian territories under Lithuania. However, Lithuania itself was soon drawn into the orbit of Poland."
    from Ukraine. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica.
  31. ^ "Formally, Poland and Lithuania were to be distinct, equal components of the federation,[...] But Poland, which retained possession of the Lithuanian lands it had seized, had greater representation in the Diet and became the dominant partner.
    from Lublin, Union of (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica
  32. ^ "While Poland and Lithuania would thereafter elect a joint sovereign and have a common parliament, the basic dual state structure was retained. Each continued to be administered separately and had its own law codes and armed forces. The joint commonwealth, however, provided an impetus for cultural Polonization of the Lithuanian nobility. By the end of the 17th century it had virtually become indistinguishable from its Polish counterpart."
    from Lithuania, history in Encyclopædia Britannica
  33. ^ a b (Polish) Marek Sobczyński. "Procesy integracyjne i dezintegracyjne na ziemiach litewskich w toku dziejów" (pdf). Retrieved on 2007-10-11. 
  34. ^ a b c d (Lithuanian) (2003) "Istorija. Politologija: kurso santrauka istorijos egzaminui". . Statistical numbers, usually accepted in historiography (the sources, their treatment, the method of measuring is not discussed in the source), are given, according to which in 1260 there were about 0.27 million Lithuanians out of a total population of 0.4 million (or 67.5%). The size of the territory of the Grand Duchy was about 200 thousand km2. The following data on population is given in the sequence - year, total population in millions, territory, Lithuanian (inhabitants of ethnic Lithuania) part of population in millions: 1340 - 0.7, 350 thousand km2, 0.37; 1375 - 1.4, 700 thousand km2, 0.42; 1430 - 2.5, 930 thousand km2, 0.59 or 24%; 1490 - 3.8, 850 thousand km2, 0.55 or 14% or 1/7; 1522 - 2.365, 485 thousand km2, 0.7 or 30%; 1568 - 2.8, 570 thousand km2, 0.825 million or 30%; 1572, 1.71, 320 thousand km2, 0.85 million or 50%; 1770 - 4.84, 320 thousand km2, 1.39 or 29%; 1791 - 2.5, 250 km2, 1.4 or 56%; 1793 - 1.8, 132 km2, 1.35 or 75%
  35. ^ Letukienė, N., Istorija, Politologija: Kurso santrauka istorijos egzaminui, 2003, p. 182; there were about 0.37 million Lithuanians of 0.7 million of a whole population by 1340 in the territory of 350 thousand km2 and 0.42 million of 1.4 million by 1375 in the territory of 700 thousand km2. Different numbers can also be found, for example: Kevin O'Connor, The History of the Baltic States, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003, ISBN 0-313-32355-0, Google Print, p.17. Here the author estimates that there were 9 million inhabitants in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and 1 million of them were ethnic Lithuanians by 1387.
  36. ^ Bjorn Wiemer, Dialect and language contacts on the territory of the Grand Duchy from the 15th century until 1939, Kurt Braunmüller, Gisella Ferraresi, Aspects of multilingualism in European language history, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2003, ISBN 90-272-1922-2, Google Print, p.109; 125
  37. ^ Based on 1493 population map (p.92) from Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski, Poland a Historical Atlas, Hippocrene Books, 1987, ISBN 0-88029-394-2
  38. ^ Jarmo Kotilaine, Russia's foreign trade and economic expansion in the seventeenth century: windows on the world, BRILL, 2005, ISBN 90-04-13896-X, Google Print, p.45
  39. ^ a b Daniel. Z Stone, A History of East Central Europe, p.4
  40. ^ a b c Kevin O'Connor, Culture And Customs of the Baltic States, Greenwood Press, 2006, ISBN 0-313-33125-1, Google Print, p.115
  41. ^ a b c d Stephen R. Burant and Voytek Zubek, Eastern Europe's Old Memories and New Realities: Resurrecting the Polish-lithuanian Union, East European Politics and Societies 1993; 7; 370, online, p.4
  42. ^ a b (Lithuanian) Lietuvos Didžiosios kunigaikštystės kanceliarinės slavų kalbos termino nusakymo problema Z. Zinkevičius
  43. ^ a b c Daniel. Z Stone, A History of East Central Europe, p.46
  44. ^ a b c d Bjorn Wiemer, Dialect and language contacts on the territory of the Grand Duchy from the 15th century until 1939, Kurt Braunmüller, Gisella Ferraresi, Aspects of multilingualism in European language history, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2003, ISBN 90-272-1922-2, Google Print, p.109-114
  45. ^ Stone, Daniel. The Polish-Lithuanian State, 1386-1795. Seattle: University of Washington, 2001. p. 4.
  46. ^ Kamuntavičius, Rustis. Development of Lithuanian State and Society. Kaunas: Vytautas Magnus University, 2002. p.21.
  47. ^ Piotr Eberhardt, Jan Owsinski, Ethnic Groups and Population Changes in Twentieth-Century Central-Eastern Europe: History, Data, Analysis, M.E. Sharpe, 2003, ISBN 0-7656-0665-8, Google Print, p.177.
  48. ^ Daniel. Z Stone, A History of East Central Europe, p.52
  49. ^ a b c (Lithuanian) Lietuvių kalba: poreikis ir vartojimo mastai (XV a. antra pusė - XVI a. antra pusė); A. Dubonis
  50. ^ [...] не обчымъ яким языкомъ, але своимъ властнымъ права списаные маемъ [...]; Dubonis, A. Lietuvių kalba
  51. ^ Vilniaus Universitetas. History of Vilnius University. Retrieved on 2007.04.16
  1. S. C. Rowell. Chartularium Lithuaniae res gestas magni ducis Gedeminne illustrans. Gedimino laiškai. Vilnius, 2003.
  2. Norman Davies. God's Playground. Columbia University Press; 2nd edition (2002), ISBN 0-231-12817-7.

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