Grand Duchy of Lithuania

Grand Duchy of Lithuania

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania ( _lt. Lietuvos Didžioji Kunigaikštystė, old literary Lithuanian: "Didi Kunigiste Letuvos", Ruthenian: "Wialikaje Kniastwa Litowskaje, Ruskaje, Żamojckaje", _la. Magnus Ducatus Lituaniae, _be. Вялікае Княства Літоўскае, "Vialikaje Kniastva Litoŭskaje", _uk. Велике Князівство Литовське, "Velyke Knyazivstvo Lytovske", _pl. Wielkie Księstwo Litewskie, _lv. Lietuvas Lielkunigaitija/Lietuvas Lielkņaziste, Russian: "Великое Княжество Литовское", German: "Großfürstentum Litauen") was an Eastern and Central European state from the 12th T. Baranauskas. Lietuvos valstybės ištakos. Vilnius, 2000] /13th century until the 18th century. It was founded by Lithuanians, one of the pagan Baltic tribes, whose initial lands covered the eastern part of present day Lithuania, Aukštaitija. [ Rowell S.C. Lithuania Ascending a pagan empire within east-central Europe, 1295-1345. Cambridge, 1994. p.289-290] [ Ch. Allmand. The New Cambridge Medieval History. Cambridge, 1998 p. 731.] [Encyclopædia Britannica. [ Grand Duchy of Lithuania] ] It later expanded its territory to include large parts of former Kievan Rus. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania covered the territory of present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Transnistria and parts of Poland and Russia. At its greatest size, in the 15th century, it was the largest state in Europe. [ R. Bideleux. A History of Eastern Europe: Crisis and Change. Routledge, 1998. p.122]

Consolidation of Lithuanian lands started in the 12th century, as marked by extensive raids by Lithuanians of wealthy cities such as Novgorod and Pskov. The 13th century saw the beginning of the wars with the Teutonic Knights and the Livonian Order. It witnessed the rise of Mindaugas, who was crowned as King of Lithuania in 1253. The title of "Grand Duchy" was consistently applied to Lithuania from the 14th century onward, [ E. Bojtár. Forward to the Past: A Cultural History of the Baltic People. Central European University Press, 1999 p. 179 ] . The multi-ethnic and multi-confessional state emerged only at the late reign of Gediminas. [ Lithuania Ascending p.289. ] During the reign of his son Algirdas, the grand Duchy expanded more than under any other ruler. [ Z. Kiaupa. Algirdas ir LDK rytų politika. Gimtoji istorija 2: Nuo 7 iki 12 klasės (Lietuvos istorijos vadovėlis). CD. (2003). Elektroninės leidybos namai: Vilnius.]

Algirdas's successor Jogaila opened a new chapter in the history of Lithuania by signing the Krėva agreement in 1386. This treaty paved the way for coronation of Jogaila as a King of Poland, acceptance of Roman Catholic Christianity by Lithuania, and establishing a dynastic union between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland, [N. Davies. Europe: A History. Oxford, 1996 p.392] to the Catholic faith.

Soon afterwards, Vytautas the Great acquired supreme power in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Vytautas led the army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, which signified the downfall of the Teutonic Order. After Vytautas's death, Lithuania's relationship with the Kingdom of Poland greatly deteriorated. 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.] Lithuanian noblemen tried to break the personal union with the Kingdom of Poland. [ 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. ] Unsuccessful wars with the Grand Duchy of Moscow forced the union to remain intact, despite the opposition from some noblemen like the Radvilos.

Eventually, the Union of Lublin in 1569 created the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In this federation, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania had a separate government, laws, army, and treasury. [ D. Stone. The Polish-Lithuanian state: 1386-1795. University of Washington Press, 2001. p. 63] During Commonwealth times, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was involved in many wars, like the Livonian War, the Northern War and others. The Union with Poland failed to prevent territorial losses to the ascending Russians. In 1795, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was destroyed and partitioned between Imperial Russia, Prussia and Austria.

Establishment of the state

Rise to power

The first written reference to Lithuania is found in the Quedlinburg Chronicle, which dates from 1009. [ Encarta. [ Lithuania] . Accessed September 21, 2006.] This contemporary account mentions little of the state or its social structure, except that Lithuania bordered Rus and that there were active pagans in the region. [ The Quedlinburg Chronicle relates the tragic fate of the mission of St. Bruno of Querfurt: "St. Bruno, an archbishop and monk, who was called Boniface, was struck in the head by Pagans during the 11th year of his conversion at the Rus and Lithuania border, and along with 18 of his followers, entered heaven on March 9th". Boniface's mission had been organised by King Boleslaw I the Brave, who was attempting to extend his influence into Prussian lands.] References to Lithuania also appear in Slavic chronicles, as one of the areas that the Rus' attacked; apparently their initial raid was unsuccessful, but the grand dukes of Kiev continued to mount forays into Lithuanian territory. Pagan Lithuanians in the early 12th century paid tribute to Polotsk, including the Semigallians, the Curonians and the Lettigallians. In 1131, Lithuania suffered a major attack by Mstislav the Great. However, as Mstislav's army was returning home, laden with plunder, Lithuanians beat the regiments which had lagged behind the main Mstislav's army. It was not the only victory for Lithuanians and it did indicate that Lithuania was gaining strength. The Russian chronicles of the time write about Lithuanians "who have emerged from their swamps, which in the past they dared not leave, to plunder their neighbours." The chronicles also write about the "enlarged Lithuanian nation" that has an army "that has not existed since the beginning of the world." []

During this time Lithuanians usually constructed alliances with one or another Rurikid ruler and apparently did not initiate full-scale attacks towards the principalities of Rus. 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 Polotsk duchy as well as Pskov, and even threatening Novgorod.Encyclopedia Lituanica. Boston, 1970-1978, Vol.5 p.395] After a successful Lithuanian raid of Livonia in 1185, the local inhabitants built several castles in the region, trying to protect the population. From the twelfth century on, the Lithuanians represented a real threat to their western neighbours and missions as well as to their Slavic neighbors.The sudden spark of military raids marked state consolidation process of Lithuanian lands confederation around twelfth century in Aukštaitija (Upper Lithuania), [Samogitia (Lower Lithuania) is another historical region of Lithuania ] possibly by the end of the 12th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was already formed in these lands.

The year 1202 marked another development that galvanized the formation of the state – the establishment of a Christian militia, the Livonian Order, which posed a significant threat to pagan powers in the region. This threat was reinforced by the formation of other rivals, such as the Galicia-Volhynia and Teutonic Order, established in 1226. Eventually the most important signs of mutual cooperation and consolidation between Lithuanians and Samogitians was the treaty with Galicia-Volhynia of 1219. It is the earliest documented evidence of cooperation among a large group of Lithuanian dukes. This treaty lists 21 Lithuanian dukes among its signatories, including five senior Lithuanian dukes from AukštaitijaŽivinbudas, Daujotas, Vilikaila, Dausprungas and Mindaugas. Probably Živinbudas was the superior among others and at least senior Lithuanian dukes were related with each other by one family ties. [A.Bumblauskas. Senosios Lietuvos istorija, 1009 – 1795 (The Early History of Lithuania).Vilnius, 2005, p.33] The treaty was also signed by dukes from Samogitia, which showed increasing levels of cooperation among the Lithuanians. Although they had battled in the past, the Lithuanians and the Samogitians spoke a similar dialect and now faced a common enemy. [Lithuania Ascending p.50 ] The formal acknowledgment of common interests, and the establishment of a hierarchy among the participants of the treaty, foreshadowed the emergence of the state.

Mindaugas, one of the mentioned senior dukes, raised Lithuania up among Western European states during later years.

Role of Mindaugas and Conversion to Christianity

Mindaugas, duke [ By contemporary, Lithuanians their early rulers called "kunigas" (singular); "kunigai" (plural), the word, which was borrowed from German language – "kuning", "konig". "Kunigas" had a meaning of overlord and king. Later on "kunigas" had been changed by the word "kunigaikštis", which is applied to medieval Lithuanian rulers until present day, while "kunigas" has another meaning today.] of southern LithuaniaZ.Kiaupa, J. Kiaupienė, A. Kunevičius. The History of Lithuania Before 1795. Vilnius, 2000. p. 43-127] was mentioned in the Halych-Volhynia agreement as senior, but he did not have a highest power in Lithuania then. Eventually he became sovereign ruler. Mindaugas was mentioned as the ruler of the whole Lithuania in Livonian Rhymed Chronicle in 1236. V. Spečiūnas. Lietuvos valdovai (XIII-XVIII a.): enciklopedinis žinynas. Vilnius, 2004. p. 15-78.] How he managed to acquire supreme power in Lithuania is not exactly known. Slavic chronicles mention that he used to murder or expel various dukes, including his relatives. [Mindaugas rise to power was described in canonicale as follows: "was a duke in the Lithuanian land, and he killed his brothers and his brothers' sons and banished others from the land and began to rule alone over the entire Lithuanian land. And he started to put on airs and enjoyed glory and might and would not put up with any opposition"] After securing power in Lithuania, Mindaugas turned his sight towards Slavic provinces and regions, annexing Navahrudak, Hrodna and other places, which were regarded as part of Rus. These regions came into Mindaugas' possession somewhere between 1239 and 1248. After acquiring several Black Ruthenia provinces Mindaugas appointed his son Vaišvilkas to rule them, who apparently greatly suppressed the local population. [As noted in Hypatian Chronicle, Vaišvilkas ordered to kill 4 local people each day.] An important event took place in 1236, which had an impact in the whole region: an army led by Samogitian ruler Vykintas won the Battle of the Sun, inflicting a catastrophic outcome to the Livonian Order, which never regained its full power and was forced to become a branch of the Teutonic Knights. That meant that Samogitia became the main target of both Orders, because only this land prevented them from physical union. The battle's outcome provided a short break in wars with the Knights and Lithuania exploited this situation, arranging attacks towards Ruthenian provinces. Around 1248 Mindaugas sent his nephews Tautvilas and Edivydas and Vykintas to conquer Smolensk being a part of Mongol state. But they were unsuccessful. Most likely due to this unsuccessful campaign, Mindaugas tried to seize their lands and the defeated dukes had to flee from Lithuania. Soon afterwards three men formed a powerful coalition with the Livonian Order, Daniel of Galicia, Vasilko of Volhynia and partially with Samogitians against Mindaugas, war was inevitable.

The Dukes of Halych and Volhynia managed to get control over Black Ruthenia, lands which were ruled by Vaišvilkas. Tautvilas, seeking support from Knights, went to Riga, where he was baptized by the Archbishop and received military support. Soon afterwards the Order organized two big raids, one to Nalša land and the other to Mindaugas' domain and parts of Samogitia that still supported him.B. Butkevičienė, V. Gricius. [ Mindaugas – Lietuvos karalius] . Accessed September 29, 2006.] Mindaugas facing extremely difficult position managed to take advantage of Livonian Order and Archbishop of Riga conflicts – he bribed Andreas von Stierland, the master of the Order, who was still angry on Vykintas for the defeat in 1236. Andreas von Stierland agreed to support Mindaugas and promised help, but he also raised the condition, that pagan Mindaugas must take the Catholic faith. Mindaugas agreed to baptize and also give to the Order some lands in the western part of Lithuania for the Royal crown in return. He alongside with wife and sons was baptized in the Catholic rite in 1251. On July 17, 1251 Pope Innocent IV issued a papal bull proclaiming Lithuania as Kingdom and the state was placed under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome.

In 1252, Tautvilas and the remaining allies attacked Mindaugas in Voruta. The attack failed and the allies had to defend themselves in Tverai Castle. After Vykintas death Tautvilas was forced to go back to Daniel of Halych. These developments signified the collapse of the coalition, and Daniel with Tautvilas reconciled with Mindaugas soon afterwards. When the fights were finished, there were no obstacles to Mindaugas holding his royal crown and in 1253 he was crowned as King of Lithuania most likely in Vilnius, where Mindaugas had his court and newly built Cathedral. [Lithuania Ascending p.71]
Pope Innocent IV supported Mindaugas, because he hoped the new Catholic state could stop the raids of Mongols-Tatars. To strengthen Christianity in the state there was appointed Bishop of Lithuania, firstly was introduced Dominican Vito and in 1254, Christian. However, as later events showed, Lithuanians were not prepared to accept Christianity.

During later years Mindaugas tried to expand his influence in the Polatsk, a major center of commerce in the Daugava River basin, and Pinsk. He also conducted peace with Halych-Volhynia, and arranged marriage between his daughter and Svarn, son of Daniel of Volhynia and future ruler of Lithuania. In 1255, Mindaugas got permission from Pope Alexander IV to crown one of his sons as King of Lithuania.

The Teutonic Order used this period to strengthen its position in parts of Samogitia and Livonia, but in 1259 the Order lost the Battle of Skuodas and in 1260 the Battle of Durbe. The later one encouraged the Prussians, conquered by the Order, to rebel against the Knights. Encouraged by Treniota, his nephew, Mindaugas broke the peace with the Order, took the Samogitians under his own jurisdiction again and tried to use the situation among rebelling Baltic tribes to his favor. Chronicles mention that he also relapsed into his old beliefs.

Mindaugas made a deal with Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod and marched against the Order. Treniota led the army to Cēsis and against Masovia hoping to encourage conquered Baltic tribes to rebel against the Knights. Nevertheless campaign did not reach its goal in the end and relationships between Mindaugas and Treniota deteriorated, who together with Daumantas assassinated Mindaugas and his two sons, Ruklys and Rupeikis in 1263.Senosios Lietuvos istorija p. 44-45]

State lapsed into years of internal fights.


After Mindaugas' death, Treniota took over the title of Grand Duke. However, his power was fragile and less than a year later, in 1264 he was killed by Mindaugas' son Vaišvilkas and his ally from Volhynia, Svarn. Daumantas ran away to Pskov, was baptized as Timofei and ruled there successfully in 1266-1299. Vaišvilkas, once a fierce pagan who later became devoted Orthodox, after three years or rule transferred Grand Duke title to Svarn. Unstable political situation in Lithuania resulted lack support to the rebelling Balts, which were initially supported by Mindaugas and Treniota, thus Baltic rebellion slowly began to calm down.

Svarn took power in 1267. It is likely that he was unable to take control of the entire Lithuania and ruled only southern parts. At the same time Vaišvilkas was killed by Lev Danylovich, brother of Svarn, who was angry on Vaišvilkas, because he did not transfer supreme power to rule Lithuania for him.

In 1268 Pope Clement IV issued a papal bull, which granted permission to King of Bohemia Ottokar II to resurrect Kingdom of Lithuania. In the same year King and soldiers from Bohemia, Austria, through Poland, arrived in Prussia and preparations for the assault on Lithuania started, but due to the bad weather the campaign did not occur. After one year Svarn was removed from the throne by the pagan Traidenis, the illustrious Duke of Kernavė. It was at this time thereabouts some referred to it as the Lithuanian Empire and it was marked as such in some older map atlases, though whether it referred to itself as such isn't clear.

Traidenis began to wage war with Halych-Volhynia in 1274-1276 and he emerged victorious, finally conquering Black Ruthenia. Traidenis was also successful in fighting with the Livonian Order. In 1270 he won the Battle of Karuse, fought on ice near Saaremaa. In 1279 the Order attacked Lithuanian lands and even reached Traidenis' main seat in Kernavė, but on the way back they suffered a great defeat in the Battle of Aizkraukle. After the battle, Semigallians rebelled and acknowledged Lithuania's superiority. Traidenis waged several more campaigns but in 1282 he died.

There is uncertainty as to who were the Grand Dukes of Lithuania after Traidenis' death. In 1285, chronicles mention Daumantas as Grand Duke. He attacked Tver and was severely wounded or even killed. The first Gediminid to rule Lithuania was Butigeidis, who died in 1290 or 1292, and his brother and sub-monarch Butvydas (also known as Pukuveras) inherited the crown. Butvydas was father of Vytenis and Gediminas. He died in 1296, leaving the throne to Vytenis.

Vytenis was the first ruler from the Gediminids dynasty who ruled Lithuania for considerably long time. [Lithuania Ascending p.55] Vytenis was mentioned as king and overlord of Lithuania in 1296. Under his reign, the construction of castles network alongside Nemunas begun in end of the 13th century. Gradually this network of castles developed into the main outpost and defensive structures against the Teutonic Order.

Vytenis' reign saw constant warfare with the surrounding lands, particularly with the Order, the Kingdom of Poland, and Ruthenian provinces. In 1295 an army led by Vytenis plundered Polish lands. These attacks on Polish lands continued until 1306. At the 13th century the Kingdom of Poland existed only in the hearts and memories of various Polish noblemen as these years witnessed disintegration of the Kingdom. Vytenis used this situation to his state needs and later on he supported Polish pretender to the Kingdom's throne. Vytenis also intervened into Duchy of Masovia affairs, as Duke of Masovia Boleslaw II has been married to Lithuanian princes Gaudemunda. In the late 13th century conflict between Riga citizens and Teutonic Knights arose and Vytenis offered aid to citizens of the city by sending a Lithuanian garrison to them in 1298. The Lithuanian garrison had duty to protect city from the Knights. Lithuanians remained in the city until 1313. M. Jones. The New Cambridge Medieval History. Cambridge, p. 706 ] Securing positions in Riga provided fordable situation to strengthen trade routes in the region and organize military campaigns towards the Teutonic Order and Ruthenian provinces. Between 1298 and 1313 Vytenis arranged around eleven military campaigns into Prussian lands controlled by the Order, inflicting a series of defeats to the foe. [Lithuania Ascending p.57] Around 1307, Polatsk was annexed by military force. [ New Cambridge p.706 ] The annexation of Polatsk led to securing important trade route which enabled consistent trade in the region and also increased Lithuania's influence on remaining Ruthenian provinces.

Vytenis arranged several more military raids into lands ruled by the Teutonic Order until 1315 and for the last time he went into contemporary writing sources at the end of 1315. Further faith of Vytenis is unknown; nevertheless Grand Duke title passed to his brother Gediminas, [A. Nikžentaitis. Gediminas. Vilnius, 1989, p.23] the sub-monarch reigning in Samogitia and probably in Trakai while Vytenis was still alive. As sovereign ruler Gediminas exchanged Trakai seat to Vilnius. [ Lithuania Ascending p.72] [Gediminas p.16 ]

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 Lithuania in Vilnius, which was presumably moved from Trakai in 1323.

Lithuania was in an ideal position to inherit west and south part of Kievan Rus'. While almost every other state around it had been plundered or defeated by the Mongols, their hordes never reached as far north as Lithuania and its territory 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.

The Lithuanian state was not built only on military aggression. 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 Lithuania. Since most of them were already vassals of the Golden Horde or of Grand Prince of Moscow, such 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 Lithuania. [Glenn Hinson. The Church Triumphant: A History of Christianity Up to 1300. 1995, p.438] Rather, Lithuanian control was the result of internal frictions within the city, which attempted to escape submission to Russia. 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 Russian cities.

Lithuania was Christianized in 1387. Christianization was led by Jogaila, who personally translated Christian prayers into the Lithuanian language. [ Jerzy Kloczowski. "A History of Polish Christianity". Cambridge University Press, 2000. p.55 ] 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 Russia. In 1410 Vytautas himself commanded the forces of the Grand Duchy in the Battle of Grunwald (also called the Battle of Tannenberg or Žalgirio mūšis). The battle ended in a decisive Polish-Lithuanian victory. 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 Lithuanian nobility. During Vytautas' rule Radziwill and Goštautas families started to gain influence.


The speedy expansion of Russia soon put it into a position to rival Lithuania, however, and after the annexation of Novgorod in 1478 Russia was unquestionably the preeminent state in Northeast 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 loss of land to Russia and the continued pressure from the expanding Russian state posed a real threat of destroying the state of Lithuania, so it was forced to make closer alliance with Poland, uniting with its western neighbour in the Commonwealth of Two Nations ("Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth") in the Union of Lublin of 1569. According to the Union many of the territories formerly controlled by largely Ruthenized"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.] Grand Duchy of Lithuania were transferred to the Crown of the Polish Kingdom, while the gradual Polonization started the slower process of drawing Lithuania itself under Polish domination."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] "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] while, the Grand Duchy retained many rights in that federation (including separate government, treasury and army) until the May Constitution of Poland was passed in 1791.

Napoleonic period

Following the Partitions of Poland, most of the lands of the former Grand Duchy were directly annexed by Imperial Russia 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 icon cite paper |author=Marek Sobczyński |title=Procesy integracyjne i dezintegracyjne na ziemiach litewskich w toku dziejów |version= |publisher=Zakład Geografii Politycznej Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego |date= | |format=pdf |id= |accessdate=2007-10-11 ] However, the union was never formalized as only half a year later Napoleon's "Grande Armee" was pushed out of Russia and forced to retreat further eastwards. In December 1812 Vilnius was recaptured by Russian forces, bringing all plans of recreation of the Grand Duchy to the end.


The chancellery languages of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were Ruthenian (Old Belarusian or Old Ukrainian), [Stone, Daniel. "The Polish-Lithuanian State, 1386-1795." Seattle: University of Washington, 2001. p.4] Latin, German and Polish. Until 1697, the first one was used to write laws (Statutes of Lithuania) and to correspond with Eastern countries; Latin and German were used in foreign affairs. [Kamuntavičius, Rustis. "Development of Lithuanian State and Society." Kaunas: Vytautas Magnus University, 2002. p.21.] In 1697, Polish replaced Ruthenian as the chancellery language.

Although usage of Lithuanian language in ruling the state after Vytautas and Jogaila (sons of Kęstutis and Algirdas, respectively) is sometimes disputed, it is stated that King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Alexander I still could understand and speak LithuanianFact|date=July 2007. There are no valid later evidences.Also, at the time nationalism was not present, and nobles who migrated from one place to another would adapt to a new locality and take local religion and culture. Therefore those Lithuanian nobles who moved to Slavic areas in generations took up their culture. There is no available information what languages these nobles spoke in their everyday lives.

At the birth of the state, ethnical Lithuanians made 70% of population. With the acquisition of new Slavic territories, this part decreased to 50% and later to 30%. Other important nations were Jews and Tatars. By the time of the late Grand Duchy, Slavs made overall majority, and Slavic languages were used to write laws. This is the reason why the late GDL is often called a Slavic country, among Poland, Russia etc.


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 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 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

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 a pagan belief based on deification of natural phenomena. 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, like feeding grass snakes 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 refomation.

In 1579, Stefan Batory, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, founded Vilnius University, one of the oldest universities in Eastern 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. [Vilniaus Universitetas. [ History of Vilnius University] . Retrieved on 2007.04.16]


"The Simple Words of Catechism" (by Martynas Mažvydas). Book was dedicated to Grand Duchy of Lithuania.]

According to some historianswho? (especially in Russia), one of the most crucial effects of Lithuanian rule was ethnic divisions amongst the inhabitants of former Kievan Ruthenia. 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 Ruthenia, 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.

Otherswho? 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=History of Ukraine
*Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
*Lithuania proper
*History of Lithuania
*Duchy of Lithuania
*Cities of Grand Duchy of Lithuania
*List of Belarusian rulers
*List of Lithuanian rulers

Notes and references

# S. C. Rowell. "Chartularium Lithuaniae res gestas magni ducis Gedeminne illustrans. Gedimino laiškai". Vilnius, 2003
# Norman Davies. "God's Playground". Columbia University Press; 2 edition (December 15, 2002) ISBN 0-231-12817-7

External links

* [ Cheryl Renshaw. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania 1253-1795]
* [ Grand Duchy of Lithuania]

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