Thursday, February 22, 2007

History of Lithuania

History of Lithuania. This is a brief history to the Baltic nation of Lithuania. It has recently emerged from the corpse of the Soviet Union but it has a long history as an independent state.

The Encyclopædia Britannica notes, "Officially Republic of Lithuania , Lithuanian Lietuva , or Lietuvos Respublika country of northeastern Europe, the southernmost and largest of the three Baltic states. It is bounded on the north by Latvia, on the east and south by Belarus, on the southwest by an exclave of Russia and by Poland, and on the west by the Baltic Sea. The capital is Vilnius."

From the site:

The first written mention of Lithuania occurs in 1009 AD, although many centuries earlier the Roman historian Tacitus referred to the Lithuanians as excellent farmers. Spurred by the expansion into the Baltic lands of the Germanic monastic military orders (the Order of the Knights of the Sword and the Teutonic Order) Duke Mindaugas united the lands inhabited by the Lithuanians, the Samogitians, Yotvingians, and Couranians into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) in the 1230s-40s. In 1251 Mindaugas adopted Catholicism and was crowned King of Lithuania on July 6, 1253; a decade later, civil war erupted upon his assassination until a ruler named Vytenis defeated the Teutonic Knights and restored order.

From 1316 to 1341 Vytenis' brother and successor, Grand Duke Gediminas, expanded the empire as far as Kiev against the Tatars and Russians. He twice attempted to adopt Christianity in order to end the GDL's political and cultural isolation from western Europe. To that purpose, he invited knights, merchants, and artisans to settle in Lithuania and wrote letters to Pope John XXII and European cities maintaining that the Teutonic Order's purpose was to conquer lands rather than spread Christianity. Gediminas' dynasty ruled the GDL until 1572. In the 1300s through the early 1400s, the Lithuanian state expanded eastward. During the rule of Grand Duke Algirdas (1345-77), Lithuania almost doubled in size. The 1385 Kreva Union signed by the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jogaila (ruled in 1377-81 and 1382-92) and the Queen of Poland Jadwyga intensified Lithuania's economic and cultural development, orienting it toward the West.

Lithuania's independence under the union with Poland was restored by Grand Duke Vytautas. During his rule (1392-1430) the GDL turned into one of the largest states in Europe, encompassing present-day Belarus, most of Ukraine, and the Smolensk region of western Russia. Led by Jogaila and Vytautas, the united Polish-Lithuanian army defeated the Teutonic Order in the Battle of Tannenberg (Grunewald or Zalgiris) in 1410, terminating the medieval Germanic drive eastward.

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