Gediminas (c. 1275 – December 1341) was
Grand Duke of Lithuania
from 1315 or 1316 until his death. He is credited with founding
this political entity and expanding its territory which, at the time
of his death, spanned the area ranging from the
Baltic Sea to the
Black Sea. Also seen as one of the most significant individuals
in early Lithuanian history, he was responsible for both building
Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and establishing a dynasty that can
be traced to other European monarchies such as Poland, Hungary and
As part of his legacy, he gained a reputation for being a champion of
paganism, who successfully diverted attempts to Christianize his
country by skillful negotiations with the
Pope and other Christian
Litas commemorative coin dedicated to Gediminas
1.2 Choice of religion
1.3 Incorporation of Slavic lands
1.4 Domestic affairs and death
5 See also
8 External links
Grand Duke of Lithuania
Grand Duke of Lithuania
Gediminas on stamp. Issued on August 25, 1920.
Gediminas was born in about 1275. Because written sources of the
era are scarce, Gediminas' ancestry, early life, and assumption of the
Grand Duke in ca. 1316 are obscure and continue to be the
subject of scholarly debate. Various theories have claimed that
Gediminas was either his predecessor
Grand Duke Vytenis' son, his
brother, his cousin, or his hostler. For several centuries only two
versions of his origins circulated. Chronicles — written long after
Gediminas' death by the Teutonic Knights, a long-standing enemy of
Lithuania — claimed that
Gediminas was a hostler to Vytenis;
according to these chronicles,
Gediminas killed his master and assumed
the throne. Another version introduced in the Lithuanian Chronicles,
which also appeared long after Gediminas' death, proclaimed that
Gediminas was Vytenis' son. However, the two men were almost the same
age, making this relationship unlikely.
Recent research indicates that Gediminias' ancestor may have been
Skalmantas. In 1974 historian Jerzy Ochmański noted that
Zadonshchina, a poem from the end of the 14th century, contains a line
in which two sons of
Algirdas name their ancestors: "We are two
brothers – sons of Algirdas, and grandsons of Gediminas, and
great-grandsons of Skalmantas." This discovery led to the belief that
Skalmantas was the long-sought ancestor of the Gediminids. Ochmański
posited that the poem skipped the generation represented by Butvydas,
and jumped back to the unknown ancestor. Baranauskas disagrees,
believing Skalmantas was Butvydas' brother rather than his father, and
Gediminas were therefore cousins.
Gediminas became the
Grand Duke in 1316 at the age of 40 and ruled for
Choice of religion
He inherited a vast domain, comprising not only
Lithuania proper, but
also Samogitia, Navahradak, Podlasie,
Polotsk and Minsk. However,
these possessions were all environed by the Teutonic Knights and the
Livonian Order, which had long been the enemies of the state.
Gediminas allied himself with the
Tatars against the Teutonic order in
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania in Eastern Europe until 1434.
The systematic raiding of
Lithuania by the knights under the pretext
of converting it had long since united all the Lithuanian tribes, but
Gediminas aimed at establishing a dynasty which should make Lithuania
not merely secure but powerful, and for this purpose he entered into
direct diplomatic negotiations with the
Holy See as well. At the end
of 1322, he sent letters to
John XXII soliciting his protection
against the persecution of the knights, informing him of the
privileges already granted to the Dominicans and
Lithuania for the preaching of God's Word.
Gediminas also asked
that legates should be dispatched to him in order to be baptized.
This action was supported by the Archbishop of Riga, Frederic
Lobestat. Following these events, peace between the Duchy and the
Livonian order was eventually conducted on 2 October 1323.
On receiving a favourable reply from the Holy See,
circular letters, dated 25 January 1325, to the principal Hansa towns,
offering a free access into his domains to men of every order and
profession from nobles and knights to tillers of the soil. The
immigrants were to choose their own settlements and be governed by
their own laws. Priests and monks were also invited to come and build
Vilnius and Navahradak. In October 1323, representatives
of the archbishop of Riga, the bishop of Dorpat, the king of Denmark,
the Dominican and Franciscan orders, and the Grand Master of the
Teutonic Order assembled at Vilnius, when
Gediminas confirmed his
promises and undertook to be baptised as soon as the papal legates
arrived. A compact was then signed at Vilnius, in the name of the
whole Christian World, between
Gediminas and the delegates, confirming
the promised privileges.
Thus his raid upon Dobrzyń, the latest acquisition of the knights on
Polish soil, speedily gave them a ready weapon against him. The
Prussian bishops, who were devoted to the knights, questioned the
Gediminas letters and denounced him as an enemy of the
faith at a synod in Elbing; his Orthodox subjects reproached him with
leaning towards the Latin heresy, while the pagan Lithuanians accused
him of abandoning the ancient gods.
Gediminas disentangled himself
from his difficulties by repudiating his former promises; by refusing
to receive the papal legates who arrived at
Riga in September 1323,
and by dismissing the
Franciscans from his territories. These
apparently retrogressive measures simply amounted to a statesmanlike
recognition of the fact that the pagan element was still the strongest
force in Lithuania, and could not yet be dispensed with in the coming
struggle for nationality.
A peace agreement between
Gediminas and the Order
At the same time
Gediminas privately informed the papal legates at
Riga through his ambassadors that his difficult position compelled him
to postpone his steadfast resolve of being baptised, and the legates
showed their confidence in him by forbidding the neighbouring states
to war against
Lithuania for the next four years, besides ratifying
the treaty made between
Gediminas and the archbishop of Riga.
Nevertheless, disregarding the censures of the church, the Order
resumed the war with
Gediminas by murdering one of his delegates sent
to welcome the Grand Master for his arrival to
Riga in 1325.
He had in the meantime improved his position by an alliance with
Wladislaus Lokietek, king of Poland, and had his daughter Aldona
baptized for the sake of betrothing her to Władysław's son Casimir
An alternative view of these events was proposed by a British
historian, Stephen Christopher Rowell, where he believes that
Gediminas never intended to become a Christian himself, since that
would have offended the staunchly pagan inhabitants of
Aukštaitija. Both the pagans of
Aukštaitija and the Orthodox Rus'
Gediminas with death if he decided to convert, where a
similar scenario also happened to Mindaugas, which he desperately
wanted to avoid.
His strategy was to gain the support of the
Pope and other Catholic
powers in his conflict with the Teutonic Order by granting a
favourable status to Catholics living within his realm and feigning a
personal interest in the Christian religion. While he allowed Catholic
clergy to enter his realm for the purpose of ministering to his
Catholic subjects and to temporary residents, he savagely punished any
attempt to convert pagan Lithuanians or to insult their native
religion. Thus in about 1339-40 he executed two
Franciscan friars from
Bohemia, Ulrich and Martin, who had gone beyond the authority granted
them and had publicly preached against the Lithuanian religion.
Gediminas ordered them to renounce Christianity, and had them killed
when they refused. Five more friars were executed in 1369 for the same
Despite Gediminas' chief goal to save
Lithuania from destruction at
the hands of the Germans, he still died as a pagan reigning over
semi-pagan lands. Also, he was equally bound to his pagan kinsmen in
Samogitia, to his Orthodox subjects in Belarus, and to his Catholic
allies in Masovia. Therefore, it is still unclear whether the
letters sent to the
Pope were an actual request for conversion or
simply a diplomatic maneuver.
Incorporation of Slavic lands
Gediminas Castle in
While on his guard against his northern foes,
Gediminas from 1316 to
1340 was aggrandizing himself at the expense of the numerous Slavonic
principalities in the south and east, whose incessant conflicts
with each other wrought the ruin of them all. Here
progress was irresistible; but the various stages of it are impossible
to follow, the sources of its history being few and conflicting, and
the date of every salient event exceedingly doubtful. One of his most
important territorial accretions, the principality of Halych-Volynia,
was obtained by the marriage of his son
Lubart with the daughter of
the Galician prince.
Gediminas Tower named after the founder of Vilnius, although it was
built considerably later.
From about 23 km (14 mi) south west of Kiev, Gediminas
resoundingly defeated Stanislav of
Kiev and his allies in the Battle
on the Irpin River. He then besieged and conquered
Stanislav, the last descendant of the Rurik
Dynasty to ever rule Kiev,
into exile first in
Bryansk and then in Ryazan. Theodor, brother of
Gediminas, and Algimantas, son of
Mindaugas from the Olshanski family,
were installed in Kiev. After these conquests,
Lithuania stretched as
far as to the Black Sea.
While exploiting Slavic weakness in the wake of the Mongol invasion,
Gediminas wisely avoided war with the Golden Horde, a great regional
power at the time, while expanding Lithuania's border towards the
Black Sea. He also secured an alliance with the nascent Grand Duchy of
Moscow by marrying his daughter, Anastasia, to the grand duke Simeon.
But he was strong enough to counterpoise the influence of Muscovy in
northern Russia, and assisted the republic of Pskov, which
acknowledged his overlordship, to break away from Great Novgorod.
Domestic affairs and death
His internal administration bears all the marks of a wise ruler. He
protected the Catholic as well as the Orthodox clergy; he raised the
Lithuanian army to the highest state of efficiency then attainable;
defended his borders with a chain of strong fortresses and built
numerous castles in towns including Vilnius. At first he moved the
capital to the newly built town of Trakai, but in c. 1320
re-established a permanent capital in Vilnius.
Gediminas died in 1341, presumably killed during a coup
d'état. He was cremated as a part of a fully pagan ceremony in
1342, which included a human sacrifice, with favourite servant and
several German slaves being burned on the pyre with the corpse.
All these facts assert that
Gediminas most likely remained entirely
faithful to his native Lithuanian religion, and that his feigned
interest in Catholicism was simply a ruse designed to gain allies
against the Teutonic Order.
He was succeeded by one of his sons, Jaunutis, who was unable to
control the unrest in the country, as a result of which he was
deposed in 1345 by his brother Algirdas.
Gediminas on the
Millennium of Russia
Millennium of Russia monument in Veliky Novgorod.
He was a founder of a new Lithuanian dynasty; the Gediminids, and laid
the foundations of the state's expansion while sometimes referred as
the "true" state founder.
In modern belief, he is also regarded as founder of Vilnius, the
modern capital of Lithuania. According to a legend, possibly set in
1322 while he was on a hunting trip, he dreamt of an iron clad wolf,
who stood on a hill, howling in an odd manner as if thousand of wolves
would be howling at once. He consulted his vision with his priest
Lizdeika who told him the dream spoke of a city that must be built at
the exact place and decided to build a fortification on the confluence
Vilnia and Neris, where the place of his vision was pointed
out. This event inspired the Romantic movement,
particularly Adam Mickiewicz, who gave the story a poetic form.
Gediminas is depicted on a silver
Litas commemorative coin, issued in
Gediminas' normal Latin style is as follows:
Gedeminne Dei gratia Letwinorum et multorum Ruthenorum rex
Which translates as:
"Gediminas, by the grace of God, of the Lithuanians and many Rus'ians,
In his letters to the papacy in 1322 and 1323, he adds Princeps et Dux
Semigallie (Prince and Duke of Semigallia). In contemporary Low
German he is styled simply Koningh van Lettowen, mirroring the Latin
Rex Lethowye (both meaning "King of Lithuania"). Gediminas' right
to use the Latin rex, which the papacy had been claiming the right to
grant from the 13th century onwards, was not universally recognized in
Catholic sources. Thus, he was called rex sive dux ("King or Duke") in
Pope John XXII, in a letter to the King of France,
Gediminas as "the one who calls himself rex". However, the
pope did call
Gediminas rex when addressing him (regem sive ducem,
"king or duke").
Main article: Family of Gediminas
Gediminids of the
Jagiellonian dynasty 1521
It is uncertain how many wives
Gediminas had. The Bychowiec Chronicle
mentions three wives: Vida from Courland; Olga from Smolensk; and
Jaunė from Polotsk, who was
Eastern Orthodox and died in 1344 or
1345. Most modern historians and reference works say Gediminas'
wife was Jewna, dismissing Vida and Olga as fictitious, since no
sources other than this chronicle mention the other two wives.
An argument has been advanced that
Gediminas had two wives, one pagan
and another Orthodox. This case is supported only by the Jüngere
Hochmeisterchronik, a late 15th-century chronicle, mentioning
Narimantas as half-brother to Algirdas. Other historians support this
claim by arguing this would explain Gediminas' otherwise
mysterious designation of a middle son, Jaunutis, as his
succession would be understandable if
Jaunutis were the first-born son
Gediminas and a second wife.
He is said to have left seven sons and six daughters including:
Manvydas (Duchy of Kernavė) (ca. 1288–1348)
Narimantas (Duchy of Polatsk)
Karijotas (Duchy of Navhrudak, Black Ruthenia)
Jaunutis (Duchy of Zaslawye) initially ruled
Vilnius after the death
of his father
Algirdas (Duchy of Vitebsk)
Kęstutis (Duchy of
Trakai and protectorate of Duchy of Samogitia)
Maria, married Dmitry of Tver
Aldona, married Casimir III of Poland
Elžbieta, married Wenceslaus of Płock
Eufemija, married Boleslaw-Yuri II of Galicia
Liubartas (Duchy of Lutsk, Volhynia)
Columns of Gediminas
Family of Gediminas
Family of Gediminas – family tree of Gediminas
Gediminids – dynasty named after Gediminas
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^ Christiansen 1980, p. 154
^ Pelenski 1998
^ a b Bugajski 2002, p. 125
^ Tęgowski 1999, p. 15
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^ Ertl 2008, p. 402
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^ Purton 2009, p. 154
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^ a b Taylor 2008, p. 20
^ Jones-Bley & Huld 1996, p. 210
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^ R. Turnbull 2003, p. 14
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^ Metelsky 1959, p. 37
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^ a b Rowell 1994, p. 64
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