Algirdas (Belarusian: Альгерд, Ukrainian: Ольгерд,
Polish: Olgierd; c. 1296 – May 1377) was a ruler of medieval
Lithuania. He ruled the
Ruthenians from 1345 to 1377.
With the help of his brother
Kęstutis (who defended the western
border of the Duchy) he created an empire stretching from the present
Baltic states to the
Black Sea and to within fifty miles of Moscow.
2 Expansion of Lithuania
3 Religion and death
5 See also
Algirdas was one of the seven sons of Grand Prince Gediminas. Before
his death in 1341,
Gediminas divided his domain, leaving his youngest
Jaunutis in possession of the capital, Vilnius. With the aid of
his brother, Kęstutis,
Algirdas drove out the incompetent Jaunutis
and declared himself Grand Prince in 1345. He devoted the next
thirty-two years to the development and expansion of the Grand Duchy
Two factors are thought to have contributed to this result: the
political sagacity of
Algirdas and the devotion of Kęstutis. The
division of their dominions is illustrated by the fact that Algirdas
appears almost exclusively in East Slavic sources, while Western
chronicles primarily describe Kęstutis. Lithuania was surrounded by
Teutonic Order in the northwest and the
Golden Horde in
the southwest sought Lithuanian territory, while Poland to the west
and Muscovy to the east were generally hostile competitors.
Expansion of Lithuania
Algirdas by Alexander Guagnini
Algirdas held his own, also acquiring influence and territory at the
expense of Muscovy and the
Golden Horde and extending the borders of
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the Black Sea. His principal efforts
were directed toward securing the Slavic lands which were part of the
former Kievan Rus'. Although
Algirdas engineered the election of his
son Andrew as Prince of
Pskov and a powerful minority of Novgorod
Republic citizens supported him against Muscovy, his rule in both
commercial centres was (at best) precarious.
Algirdas occupied the important principalities of
Smolensk and Bryansk
in western Russia. Although his relationship with the grand dukes of
Muscovy was generally friendly (demonstrated by his marriages to two
Orthodox Russian princesses), he besieged Moscow in 1368 and 1370
during the Lithuanian–Muscovite War (1368–72). An important feat
Algirdas was his victory over the Tatars in the Battle of Blue
Waters at the
Southern Bug in 1362, which resulted in the breakup of
Kipchaks and compelled the khan to establish his headquarters in
Religion and death
According to modern historians, "For
Gediminas and Algirdas, retention
of paganism provided a useful diplomatic tool and weapon ... that
allowed them to use promises of conversion as a means of preserving
their power and independence".
Hermann von Wartberge and Jan
Algirdas as a pagan until his death in 1377.
Contemporary Byzantine accounts support the Western sources; Patriarch
Algirdas as "fire-worshipping prince" and another
patriarch, Philotheos, excommunicated all Ruthenian noblemen who
helped the "impious" Algirdas. His pagan beliefs were also
mentioned in 14th-century Byzantine historian Nicephorus Gregoras'
Algirdas (left) on the
Millennium of Russia
Millennium of Russia monument in Veliky
After his death,
Algirdas was burned on a ceremonial pyre with 18
horses and many of his possessions in a forest near Maišiagala,
probably in the Kukaveitis forest shrine located at 54°55′42″N
25°01′04″E / 54.92833°N 25.01778°E / 54.92833;
25.01778. His alleged burial site has undergone archaeological
research since 2009. Algirdas' descendants include the Trubetzkoy,
Czartoryski and Sanguszko families.
Algirdas was said to have ordered the death of Anthony, John,
and Eustathius of Vilnius, who were later glorified
as martyrs of the Russian Orthodox Church, the 16th-century Bychowiec
Chronicle and 17th-century Hustynska Chronicle maintain that he
converted to Orthodox Christianity some time before his marriage to
Maria of Vitebsk in 1318. Several Orthodox churches were built in
Vilnius during his reign, but later assertions about his baptism are
uncorroborated by contemporary sources. Despite contemporary accounts
and modern studies, however, some Russian historians (such as
Batiushikov) claim that
Algirdas was an Orthodox ruler. The Kiev
Monastery of the Caves' commemorative book, underwritten by Algirdas'
descendants, recorded his baptismal name as Demetrius during the
Wojciech Wijuk Kojałowicz
Wojciech Wijuk Kojałowicz and Macarius I, Volodymyr
Antonovych writes that
Algirdas took monastic vows several days before
his death and was interred at the Cathedral of the Theotokos in
Vilnius under the monastic name Alexius.
Litas commemorative coin with image of Algirdas
Algirdas balanced himself between Muscovy and Poland, spoke Lithuanian
and Ruthenian (among other languages) and followed the majority of his
pagan and Orthodox subjects rather than to alienate them by promoting
Roman Catholicism. His son
Jogaila ascended the Polish throne,
Roman Catholicism and founded the dynasty which ruled
Lithuania and Poland for nearly 200 years.
Algirdas (Belarusian: Альгерд, Alhierd) is also widely honoured
Belarus as a unifier of all Belarusian lands within one state, a
successful military commander and ruler of medieval Belarus A
monument to him has been erected in
Vitsebsk in 2014, as part of the
celebration of the city's 1040th anniversary.
Algirdas was Duke of
Vitebsk for over 20 years before becoming Grand Duke of Lithuania.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Algirdas.
House of Algirdas – Algirdas' family tree
^ a b c d Bain, Robert Nisbet (1911). "Olgierd". Encyclopædia
Britannica. 20 (11th ed.). p. 80.
^ Muldoon, James. Varieties of Religious Conversion in the Middle
Ages. University Press of Florida, 1997. Page 140.
^ F. Miklosich, J. Mūller. Acta Patriarchatus Constantinopolitan.
Vienna, 1862, Vol. 2, p.12
^ F. Miklosich, J. Mūller. Acta Patriarchatus Constantinopolitan.
Vienna, 1862, Vol. 1, pp. 523–524
^ I. Bekker. Nicephori Gregorae Historiae Byzantinae. Bonn, 1829, Vol.
3 pp. 517–520
^ "He was cremated with the best horses, clothes, resplendent in gold
and girdled with a gilded silver belt and was covered with a gown
woven of beads and gems",
Marija Gimbutas has observed Archived 9 June
2007 at the Wayback Machine..
^ (in Lithuanian)Vykintas Vaitkevičius, Kukaveičio šventvietės
mįslės in Šiaurės Atėnai 2 May 2008
^ Lokalizavo kunigaikščio Algirdo palaikų kremavimo vietą Archived
6 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine.. retrieved on 22 May 2009
^ Contributed by Antoni Prochaska, Jan Ochmanski, Gotthold Rhode,
Marija Gimbutas, Edvardas Gudavičius etc.
^ Mažeika, Rasa (1987). "Was Grand Prince
Algirdas a Greek Orthodox
Christian?". Lituanus. 33 (4). Retrieved 6 September 2007.
^ Князь Альгерд нарэшце вярнуўся ў
Віцебск [Duke Alhierd Finally Returns to Viciebsk]
^ У Менску адкрылася выстава “Князь
Альгерд у выяўленчым мастацтве”
[Exhibition "Duke Alhierd in Visual Arts" Opened in Minsk]
^ У Віцебску ўсталявалі помнік князю
Альгерду. Фотарэпартаж [Monument to Duke Alhierd
installed in Viciebsk. Photos]
Born: c. 1296 Died: May 1377
Grand Prince of Lithuania
along with Kęstutis
Prince of Vitebsk
Monarchs of Lithuania
Early Grand Dukes
Sigismund I the Old
Sigismund II Augustus
Henry III of Valois
Anna the Jagiellonian
Sigismund III Vasa
Ladislaus IV Vasa
John II Casimir Vasa
Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki
John III Sobieski
Augustus II the Strong
August III the Saxon
Stanisław August Poniatowski