Lithuania Early History

By | December 22, 2021

Located in the center of the other Baltic populations – Borussi, Jatvingi, Latvians – the Lithuanians enjoyed, thanks to their greater isolation, relative tranquility until the beginning of the century. XIII when the Teutonic Knights Porta-Croce and Porta-Spada began to attack them under the pretext of converting them to Christianity.

The Teutonic threat induced the Lithuanians to organize their own defense, made very difficult in principle by their military inferiority and the lack of a strong and centralized government. We do not know the time when the leaders of the different tribes allied themselves to form a united front against the enemy threat. The Chronicles of Volhynia recall that in 1219, in the peace treaty between Lithuania and Volhynia, the signatures of five princes appear, including that of Mindove (Mindaugas). But the confederation of the various Lithuanian princes became a fait accompli between 1226 and 1236.

The first military actions were carried out against the Teutonic Knights Sword-bearers of Livonia who, after invading Latvia, were preparing to descend to Lithuania. In 1236 the Teutons were defeated near Šiauliai, leaving the great master of the order himself dead on the battlefield.

Mindove, who had now become the recognized head of the state, had to quell the revolt of some princes. The war spread due to the participation of the Teutons and the Russians. Mindove, after some military setbacks, made peace with the Teutonic Knights to whom he ceded a part of Samogitia and, in 1251, to take away any pretext of reassembling him, he was baptized sending his tributes as a Christian prince to Pope Innocent IV. He ordered the bishop of Culmia to crown him king of the Lithuanians, and the coronation took place in 1253. In 1255 Mindove also signed peace with the principality of Volhynia and was able to dedicate himself to expanding his conquests towards the east, taking over the principalities of Čemigov and Bryansk. But the Samogitian princes, led by Trainsotas, again tried to rebel against him, assaulting the Teutons to take away Livonia and that part of Samogitia granted to them by the king. In two battles in 1260 and 1261 the Teutons were defeated, and Trainsotas asked Mindove to join him in continuing the war against the Knights. Mindove agreed and in order to have more numerous forces allied with Alexander Nevskii, prince of Novgorod. But the unsuccessful campaign against the Teutons, relations between Mindove and the other Lithuanian princes worsened again to the point that it is believed that he was assassinated in 1263 by Trainsotas, who, against the innovations of Mindove, restored the cult to honor. and old pagan traditions. His reign, however, was short-lived because he was overthrown by the son of Mindove, Vaišvilkas, that after three years of oppression and cruelty he retired to a convent to do penance, leaving power to his brother-in-law. After he died after a year, the prince of Kernava, Traidenis (1270-1282), came to power and greatly strengthened the unity of the country. On the death of Traidenis, after the brief rule of Liutaveras, Vytenis (1293-1316) came to power, who had to fight a bitter struggle against the two confederate Teutonic orders. The cruelties of these were such as to arouse protests from the bishop of Riga himself, who turned to the pope accusing the Knights of waging a war of extermination against Lithuania, rather than a work of evangelization. Despite the papal interdiction (1309), the Knights continued to rage against Lithuania. For Lithuania 2009, please check

Vytenis was succeeded by his brother Gedimino who during his long government (1316-1341), despite being in an almost continuous war against external enemies, managed to greatly improve the internal situation of the country in every field. It was the foundation of Vilna, which became the capital, and the reorganization of the army and state administration. He called artisans from nearby Germany to Lithuania and facilitated communications by increasing trade. In order to better defend himself against the Teutons he allied himself with the king of Poland Vladislao I (1325), granting his daughter Aldona’s hand to his son Casimir. He also entered into negotiations with the pope for the Christianization of the country, but he broke them up following new assaults by the Teutonic Knights. Together with the Poles he invaded Brandenburg, reaching Frankfurt on the Oder, he was unable to break the resistance of the Teutonic Knights who, however, kept, for the whole time of his reign, far from the borders of Lithuania. He obtained better successes in the East, where he managed to extend his dominion over the cities and provinces of Slonim, Novgorod, Volkovysk, Polock and Minsk, conquered by his predecessor, also over the principalities of Brest Litovskji, Kobrin, of Mel′nik, of Vitebsk and of Volhynia. At the head of the newly conquered territories he placed his family as governors or left the subject princes there as long as they recognized his authority. Dying, Gedimino left power to the first of his seven children, named Jaunutis. But, shortly after, the two brothers of Jaunutis, Algirdas and Keistut (v.), Took power by deposing the inept and dividing the government of the country. Algirdas touched the provinces conquered in Russia and Keistut the Lithuanian ones proper. Under the leadership of these two brave and shrewd princes, Lithuania not only returned to flourish as in the days of Gedimino, but extended its already vast dominions even further. Algirdas succeeded in subjugating a large part of Russia by repelling the Tatars who, defeated in 1362 at the battle of Sinija Vody, were forced to retreat to the Crimea. In this way, the conflicts of Lithuania reached the shores of the Black Sea. Algirdas had to fight longer against the principality of Moscow, in which he had perceived the most formidable competitor to the realization of his vast project of creating a Lithuanian empire in Europe. Oriental. Twice, in 1368 and 1372, reached the gates of the city, but could not get hold of it. In addition to his exploits in the East, Algirdas often had to rush to the aid of his brother Keistut, strongly committed against the Teutons, at the height of their military power under the guidance of the grand master Ulrich von Kneiprode. They carried out as many as 70 expeditions against Lithuania without however being able to bend the indomitable Keistut.

Lithuania Early History