Eumenis Megalopoulos | Dec 11, 2023

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Gediminas, italianized to Gedimino (c. 1275 - Vilnius, 1341), was grand duke of Lithuania from 1316 until his death.

He was one of the most significant figures in Lithuania's medieval history. He continued the work of unifying the country initiated by Mindaugas, founder of the Duchy of Lithuania in the 13th century and a proponent of completing the process of Lithuanian state formation. Gediminas is credited with shaping a more conscious and stable identity for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which became under his rule one of the leading powers of Eastern Europe.

Thanks to effective military campaigns undertaken during his quarter-century interlude in power, Gediminas was able to expand his possessions eastward and southward, almost reaching the Black Sea coast. He gained numerous allies through a careful marriage policy for his sons, implemented with neighboring powers hostile to the Teutonic Order.

He is credited with building the city of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, from which his dynasty, the Gediminids, wielded power in the following decades and later came to rule Poland, Hungary and Bohemia as well.

A final legacy concerned the religious field, in that, through the use of a strategy characterized by stalling and ambiguous promises of conversion addressed to the Holy See and other Christian rulers, Gediminas allowed paganism, particularly Lithuanian mythology, to survive even into the 14th century, successfully fending off attempts to Christianize Lithuania.

Family origins

Gediminas was born around 1275, in a period of history about which the written sources pertaining to Lithuania are very scarce. This dearth of texts has prevented modern scholars from reliably reconstructing Gediminas' lineage, early life, and his rise to power. The connection with his predecessor Vytenis (it has been assumed that Gediminas was his brother, his son, his cousin, or one of his grooms. For several centuries, however, only two versions regarding his origins have circulated. According to one of the two reconstructions, the result of a chronicle compiled long after his death by the Teutonic Knights, who were longtime adversaries of Lithuania, Gediminas was a stableboy of Vytenis and killed the latter to secure the throne. An alternative version, which considers Gediminas a son of Vytenis, is found in the Lithuanian Chronicles, also compiled after Gediminas' death. However, when Gediminas became grand duke he was almost the same age as his predecessor, which is why this parental link is to be considered unlikely. Both traditions turn out to be implausible: indeed, the German chronicle appears to be a tendentious reconstruction, drawn up by a faction opposed to the Baltics, while the Lithuanian chronicle offers an imaginative reconstruction unsupported by concrete evidence.

Recent research indicates that the progenitor of the Gediminid dynasty may have been Skalmantas (or Skumantas). Turning his gaze even further back and focusing on the 1380s, arguably among the darkest years of Lithuania's early medieval history, Lithuanian historian Zigmantas Kiaupa believes that the hypothesis of a link between Skalmantas and Traidenis, the influential Lithuanian grand duke who remained in power from 1270 to 1282, cannot be ruled out. It is known that in 1295 the mysterious ruler named Pukuveras, often identified with Butvydas and believed by some to be the father of Gediminas, ceded the throne to Vytenis, who remained in power until 1316. In the same vein as the Visuotinė lietuvių enciklopedija, British historian Stephen Christopher Rowell has advanced the hypothesis that during the 20-year period 1295-1315, Gediminas lived in Trakai. He would then be assigned to the defense of the northern and western borders, as would result from the mention of the siege of a castle called "Gedimin-Burg" located in Samogizia, western Lithuania. Upon Vytenis's death, the succession to the title of grand duke turned out to be peaceful; various scholars have theorized that there simply were no other pretenders who emerged who were deemed more deserving.

Grand Duke of Lithuania

By the 13th century, systematic incursions by religious orders of chivalry (specifically, the Teutonic Knights and the Order of Livonia) had long since coalesced all Lithuanian tribes and crystallized the process of Baltic state formation. These warlike operations had taken place as part of a crusade carried out in Lithuania under the pretext of converting it (the so-called Lithuanian Crusade). When Gediminas came to power in 1316, at about forty years of age, the grand duchy was in good health and included portions of today's Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine. From the time of his ascension, the ruler proved active in foreign policy, aiming to counter Christian attacks while expanding borders by subduing the fragile eastern principalities of the old Kievan Rus'. At home, he meanwhile sought to implement reforms in the military and administrative spheres, also overseeing the construction of defensive posts.

While Gediminas intended to establish a dynasty that should make Lithuania secure, he also wished to shape a more conscious identity for his country in the European geopolitical chessboard. An important achievement early in his time as grand duke, likely facilitated by what Vytenis had already done, concerned the establishment of the Orthodox metropolia of Lithuania between 1315 and 1317. In the past, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who held the primacy of authority over the Orthodox communities, had always sought to preserve the ecclesiastical unity of all the territories of Old Rus'. However, perhaps seeking military and economic support in what would later be judged "a moment of historical confusion" and "an anomaly," they chose to quell the disputes between the various religious figures and the power games going on in Old Rus' by establishing two separate metropolises. One of them was called "of Kiev and all Rus," while the other, known as the metropolia of Lithuania, was within the borders of the Grand Duchy and specifically embraced many of the regions subjugated by Gediminas during his eastern conquest campaigns. The main seat of the metropolitan of Lithuania was located in Black Ruthenia and his authority extended over all of Western Rus' in the possession or orbit of the Grand Duchy, as in the case of Navahrudak and the Principality of Turov and Pinsk respectively. Between 1317 and 1330 there are reports of only one clergyman at the head of the Lithuanian metropolia, one Theophilus, believed to be a "political tool in the hands of Gediminas," but doubts remain on the subject. The achievement, which allowed Lithuania to boast an Orthodox metropolia at home, should be seen as part of the process of establishing the Gediminas state internationally.

In 1330, Metropolitan Theognostas the Greek was able to mend the rift between the Orthodox communities located in Western Rus' and Eastern Rus', citing the small number of Christian believers confined to the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a pretext. Subsequently, Algirdas, son of Gediminas and grand duke from 1345 to 1377, was again able to accommodate an exclusively provost metropolitan for Lithuania in 1355.

The need to gain the sympathies of the Catholic world, as well as the Orthodox world, prompted Gediminas to engage in intense diplomatic negotiations with the Holy See, requesting the intervention of the Archbishop of Riga as an intermediary. In the last months of 1322, he sent letters in Latin to Pope John XXII (known as the Gediminas Letters), in which he urged intervention to stop crusader aggression, also informing him of the privileges already granted to the Dominicans and Franciscans who had arrived in Lithuania at that time to spread Catholicism. In this missive the passage "fidem catholicam recipere" remains obscure. It is unclear whether the Lithuanian ruler had asked the emissaries sent from Rome to return only after he had been baptized or whether he simply wished to communicate, by way of a gesture made in good faith, his intention not to carry out repression toward his Catholic subjects residing in Baltic territory. Interpreting history at will, in the letters Gediminas pointed out how already Mindaugas, Lithuania's first and only king to wear a crown, had in the previous century embraced Catholicism and converted "every one of his subjects," and how, because of the aggressiveness of the Teutonic Knights, he had succumbed to the temptation to re-embrace traditional rites.

Having, as he hoped, aroused the interest of the Holy See, Gediminas sent further missives in 1323, this time addressed to the main cities of the Hanseatic League, in which he offered free access to his domains to men of all social classes and professions, from nobles to knights, merchants to farmers. To all he promised working conditions equal to those in their home lands. As is clear from the tone, this welcoming policy was in response to the purpose of presenting Lithuania in the eyes of Europe as stable and eager to grow its economy. The realization that the isolation of the Baltics could not last forever is considered by Eric Christiansen to be a great merit: Gediminas sensed that the process of the Grand Duchy's growth had to pass through a policy of opening diplomatic channels with foreign countries. In order to secure peace for his own land, he once again indulged in false and vague promises of conversion, returning to emphasize how the aggressiveness of the Christian orders was driving Lithuanians to reject Catholicism. Despite the fact that hostilities on the front were continuing partly due to Gediminas himself, on August 10, 1323 various religious orders, the papal legates in Riga, and the Order of Livonia met to discuss the proposal for a truce that the Lithuanian had made in their letters and to discuss the credibility of the promises of conversion contained in them. To remove the doubt, they chose to send emissaries to Lithuania in September; these were cordially received by Gediminas and heard him say that "God knows what my heart desires," an externalization that did little to clarify his real intentions.

As a result of these events, Gediminas remained waiting to hear what the other side would decide to do, obviously hoping for as advantageous a treaty as possible. On October 2, 1323, probably under pressure from Rome, which was closely following developments regarding a hypothetical conversion, a peace between the Grand Duchy and the Order of Livonia was finally sealed in Vilnius. The tactic undertaken by the grand duke offers insight into the religious situation of the time, as it confirms that the pagan element was still highly influential in Lithuania, so much so that the ruler was determined not to antagonize his subjects. According to the interpretation of Canadian historian Andres Kasekamp, although power was firmly in the hands of the pagans, Orthodox Christians in Lithuania had become at least twice as numerous as the former.

The October agreement sanctioned the cessation of fighting between Lithuania and Livonia (it was also made clear that ratification by the pope was required for final entry into force. The Teutonic Knights intervened in the affair and insisted on baptizing Gediminas themselves, but when he refused they in 1324 attacked him, believing that the October 1323 treaty bound only the Livonian Order. Again out of spite, Werner von Orseln, Teutonic Grandmaster, ordered the imprisonment and sometimes murder of messengers sent by Gediminas to the Christian world, destroying the letters they carried or removing their royal seal. This act, combined with military reprisals and the choice to sign an alliance with the Principality of Novgorod, which was hostile to Lithuania, pursued the aim of pushing Gediminas to openly break the treaty, as was hoped in Prussia. Although he appealed to the co-signatories to put an end to aggression, ratification procedures advanced extremely slowly, and the grand duke was forced to hold out until August 1324, when the pope finally ratified the agreement. In October, the papal legate who arrived in Riga extended the validity of the pact to both orders of knighthood. In November of the same year, the legates of the Holy See arrived in Vilnius, convinced that they could proceed with the execution of the baptism quickly, but when they met with Gediminas the latter declared, in the presence of some twenty nobles who had come from various regions of the Grand Duchy, that he had never expressed such a desire and that, rather, he preferred to be anointed by the Devil. Criticizing the foreign delegates as representatives of a faith that acted disrespectfully and belligerently toward pagans, he made sure that the circle of aristocrats present could understand for themselves his real intentions, which was not to convert. At the same time he communicated to the emissaries, partly in the same seat and partly later through letters, that he wished to prolong peace with the Christians, that he respected the role of the Holy Father, and that by now the conditions for a hypothetical baptism had vanished. Eventually, despite all the vicissitudes, the validity of the treaty was confirmed and remained in place until 1328-1329, when the raids carried out by the crusaders began again. In January 1325, however, two Cistercian abbots testified that in the meantime Gediminas had killed or enslaved more than 8,000 Christians located in or near the Grand Duchy.

Analyzing the letters, historian Eric Christiansen said he did not believe the ruler ever had any real intention of embracing Christianity and judged his moves to be the result of shrewd diplomatic tactics. Should conversion take place, he would lose the support of the inhabitants of Samogizia and Aukštaitija, who were extremely attached to Baltic religious traditions, as well as the Orthodox Rus'; the latter went so far as to threaten Gediminas with death if he really decided to baptize. The grand duke's strategy was based on the need to gain the support of the papacy and other Western powers in the conflict with the Teutonic Order by granting freedom of worship to Catholics in his kingdom and pretending to pursue a personal interest in the Christian religion. The same opinion is shared by Claudio Carpini, who felt that the policy of "dynamic balancing" implemented by Gediminas passed from the need to prove himself now close to the Orthodox Church now to the Catholic Church "depending on the moment, aware that what was at stake was the very survival of the Grand Duchy."

Lithuania was the object of the desire both of the Teutonic Knights, who wanted to subjugate it in order to join the territories held in Livonia (today's Latvia and Estonia) with those administered in Prussia (roughly eastern coastal Poland and the Kaliningrad Oblast, today's Russia), and of the Orthodox world and the Moscow Patriarchate, which hoped to extend its authority over Russian subjects, a scenario this well known to Gediminas. The Lithuanian ruler relied on the assumption that his subject Orthodox dukes could grant him immediate military relief against Teutonic aggression. However, it would have been unrealistic to assume that such a tactic would upset the outcome of the long ongoing war with Lithuania's Western enemies, as the latter proved on several occasions to be willing to invest huge resources in order to subjugate Lithuania.

While weaving diplomatic channels with the inhabitants of Riga, who were dissatisfied with the rule exercised over their city by the Order of Livonia, and with the Holy See, in the summer of 1323 Gediminas worked militarily, unleashing a diversionary attack toward the Duchy of Estonia and directing the bulk of his troops to the mouth of the Nemunas River. At that juncture, Gediminas succeeded in seizing the Christian stronghold of Memel, as well as pushing on in search of riches in Sambia, also in Teutonic hands, and in the Land of Dobrzyń, owned instead by the Duke of Masovia. The attack on the latter region pursued an ulterior purpose and occurred perhaps at the urging of Wenceslas of Płock, husband of a daughter of Gediminas, Elizabeth of Lithuania, and interested, in the same way as the Lithuanian ruler, in inserting himself into the ongoing struggle for supremacy over the area. By virtue of the numerous losses suffered by the crusaders, estimated by Christiansen at 20,000 dead and prisoners, the orders of knighthood were forced to seriously consider entering into those negotiations that would eventually lead to the peace of October 1323.

Gediminas realized that it was appropriate to arrive at more relaxed relations with another power located close to his borders as well, namely Poland. For this reason, between 1325 and 1328 he established cordial relations with King Ladislaus I, sealing the truce through a new marriage, that between his newly baptized daughter, Aldona, and Ladislaus' son, Casimir III. When Werner von Orseln, the energetic Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, succeeded in convincing Rome to proclaim a new crusade against the pagans in 1325, he ended up violating the 1323 Lithuanian-Levonian peace that had been extended to his state as well. The newly formed Polish-Lithuanian coalition launched a raid in 1326 on the Brandenburg Marches and Masovia, two lands coveted by the Polish crown and believed to be guilty of entering into cooperative relations with Prussia, bringing home great booty and numerous prisoners.

The geopolitical situation became complicated in 1328, when the inhabitants of Riga, who had risen up against the Knights of Livonia because of the restrictions imposed on trade to Rus' and Lithuania, urged Gediminas to intervene so that he could help them drive out their lords. Having responded positively to the request for relief, the Lithuanian ruler raged with his troops in the interior areas of the Marian Land, prompting the Grand Master of Livonia, Eberhard von Monheim, to plan a counteroffensive by enlisting the assistance of John I of Bohemia. The latter, who had decided to participate in a crusade against the pagans, managed to prevail over his enemies at Medvėgalis in the Grand Duchy in February 1329, converting 6,000 Lithuanians to Christianity at that juncture; however, they returned to embrace the old creed when the Bohemian left. In the following month, the Grandmaster laid siege to rebellious Riga and forced it to surrender in March 1329. The citizens were forced to break all ties with the Grand Duchy and accept the presence of a Teutonic garrison stationed in the city. Gediminas's external support for the revolt that took place in Riga against the clergy and the Order of Livonia cost the breakup of the peaceful relations woven in years past with the archdiocese of today's Latvian capital. Some time later, in September 1330, Gediminas took advantage of the ongoing Polish-Teutonic war and unleashed a major attack in the direction of southern Prussia. Although this campaign had benefited them, the Polish soldiers did not reach the Lithuanian ones until later, arousing the ire of Gediminas, who expected their support. In 1331, clashes between the Crusaders and the Baltic warriors began again, dragging on in Samogitia, i.e., the region the Christians intended to conquer, until 1334.

The wreckage of Gediminas' interlocutory religious strategy and the fragility of Poland, tried by war with the Teutonicists until 1332 and bound by compliance with a truce strongly demanded by Casimir III, prompted the monastic state to exploit the favorable moment. Thus, a new crusade was proclaimed in 1336 that gathered several supporters from Western Europe and caused serious damage to the Grand Duchy. Having found that it was impossible to stop the enemy's offensive, the Lithuanian soldiers placed in defense of the important garrison at Pilėnai preferred to commit mass suicide rather than surrender to the hostiles. The harsh winter made it impossible to continue the fighting, but in the spring of 1337 Duke Henry XIV of Bavaria, one of the foreign participants in the crusade, supervised the construction of a castle on the banks of the Nemunas River, which took the name Bayerburg (traditionally identified with Raudonė) in his honor and was built in only three weeks. The Teutonic people had high hopes for this structure because of its strategic location, and, therefore, Gediminas immediately launched himself against the stronghold to try to conquer it, but he was repulsed and his ally in the fighting, the Duke of Trakai, lost his life at that juncture. In 1338, a few months after the Lithuanian defeat at the Battle of Galialaukė, a ten-year truce was made with the Order of Livonia, which, while it did not finally appease the situation, as some smaller-scale fighting dragged on until Gediminas' death, did put a stop to large-scale operations such as that of 1336.

While he worried about his enemies to the north and west, Gediminas continued his expansion campaigns in several Slavic principalities located further south and east, which were already weakened by internal conflicts. At the same time, he continued to apply the effective strategy of combining marriages between his sons and daughters with eastern princes or princesses; the weddings celebrated by his sons Algirdas and Liubartas in Vicebsk and Volodymyr, respectively, fall into this category. After defeating Kievan Prince Stanislaus and his allies 23 kilometers to the southwest in the battle on the Irpin' River, Gediminas conquered Belgorod, Minsk, Vicebsk, Navahrudak, Perejaslav, Ovruč, Žytomyr, and besieged Kiev in 1323 for a month, leaving it following the victory in management to his brother Theodore. Thanks to these conquests and the imposition of tribute on some vassal cities, the Grand Duchy was able to exercise some interference in Kiev's affairs even in the 1330s, reaching almost as far as the Black Sea coast. To the detriment of the struggles with the Christians, which are well documented, it is difficult to accurately follow the later stages of the military campaigns executed in the east, given the scarcity of sources and the contradictory and uncertain dates of each salient event, especially between 1325 and 1340. Among the few certain information is the conquest of the Principality of Turov and Pinsk, which was developed in the basin of the Pryp "jat' River, and Podlachia, a region within the orbit of the Principality of Galicia-Volinia. It is possible that, to some extent, the latter acquisition was linked to the aforementioned marriage of Liubartas to a princess of Volinia, which was functional in creating a closer connection between Lithuania and the noblewoman's homeland. The wars of succession in Galicia-Volinia that erupted in 1340 prompted all neighboring powers, including Lithuania, to advance some pretext for intervening in the conflict and taking advantage of the difficulties of the principality, torn by internal disputes.

Regarding other eastern principalities, Gediminas continued the cordial relations already in progress with the Principality of Tver' in what would be a long-lasting peaceful relationship, bearing in mind that this trend was the same in the century immediately following. In 1320, he granted his daughter Maria to Dimitri of Tver, with the marriage taking place soon after the death of Michail Jaroslavič, the groom's father. Tver', even more than Lithuania, relied on the strategic support of the other side, being engaged in the struggle with the Grand Duchy of Moscow for political and military supremacy in Russia. At the same time, the Baltics sought to preserve good ties with Moscow, and the marriage between Anastasia, daughter of Gediminas, and Simeon of Russia in 1333 was part of this. The rivalry between Vilnius and Moscow appeared too strong, however, for it to be smoothed out exclusively by marriage, an explanation for why conflicts emerged as early as 1335. The prospect of a possible partnership between the Grand Duke of Lithuania and his counterpart in Muscovy is destined to remain precisely only a hypothesis, as none of Anastasiades and Simeon's children survived infancy. Such a scenario, which for obvious reasons could not have been a priori known to Gediminas, made the outcome of the combined nuptials unprofitable in the medium and long term. Yearning for the possibility of becoming independent from Novgorod, Pskov found an ally in Lithuania, which effectively ruled the city from 1329 to 1337 by installing the deposed Vladimir prince Alexander I of Tver', grandson of the Baltic grand duke as the son of Dimitri and Anastasia of Lithuania. Not failing to join the list of Vilnius supporters was the Principality of Smolensk, considering that its leader, Ivan Aleksandrovič, well understood the need to preserve peace in order to keep the profitable trade going via the Western Dvina to Riga and other ports located on the Baltic coast.

Finally, it is worth noting the evolving diplomatic relations he had with another great power in far Eastern Europe, the Golden Horde. Gediminas enlisted the support of the Tartars against the Teutonic Order in 1319, but the following year they were his adversaries when he engaged in battle in Galicia-Volinia. In 1324, the visit of some of the grand khan Uzbek's emissaries to Vilnius suggests how relaxed relations were. At first, the khan did not intervene as a result of the conquests made by Gediminas in the territory of the old Kievan Rus', merely continuing to demand the payment of tribute to those cities that, although conquered by the Baltics, were considered still bound by previous commitments. Collection took place through the intervention of Tatar officials who acted as tax collectors, the basqaq. For its part, the Grand Duchy tolerated this situation and never directly paid the duties demanded by the Golden Horde itself. Conditions changed in 1333, the year in which the Tatars unleashed a military campaign against Eastern Rus' directed against Smolensk, as mentioned supporters of Gediminas, but failing to sack it they devastated its surroundings and took several prisoners. Muscovite fighters had also participated in the aggression, despite not directly Prince Ivan I, who arrived only in 1338 in the territory of the Golden Horde, perhaps to strengthen his ties with an enemy of Gediminas. In 1339 the Tatars attacked Tver' and, under the pretense of wanting to summon the prince to the capital Saraj, ambushed and assassinated him, most likely to issue a warning to Gediminas and intimidate him to stop interfering with the Golden Horde's neighboring lands. Bolstered by the support of troops that had arrived from Moscow and other Russian cities, the Tatars again launched into an assault on Smolensk, once again running into defeat. Despite these rifts, in 1340 relations made peace, and Gediminas was able to concentrate on other political issues that kept him busy.

Gediminas' domestic policy choices, just as articulate as his foreign affairs choices, spanned multiple areas, involving improving the efficiency of the Lithuanian army in combat, adopting a tolerant attitude toward the Catholic and Orthodox clergy in his territory, establishing a better administrative apparatus, developing and modernizing agricultural practices, and building defensive posts on the borders of his domains and in major cities, including Vilnius. From the time he took office, he surrounded himself with a council to guide him in decision-making and legislation.

In the economic sphere one must remember his initiative to open the borders to merchants and professionals of various kinds. Attracting vendors from all corners of Europe he also attracted Jewish communities, which particularly prospered during his rule. Thanks to a unity of purpose that fostered the establishment of routes safe from bandit attack, two agreements signed in 1323 and 1338 with the Order of Livonia guaranteed the right of transit to traders of pagan and Christian faiths along a major axis that, while it included the cities of the Hanseatic League and modern Latvia, also included Lithuania and some settlements of Western Rus', namely Polack and Vicebsk. In November 1338, a similar arrangement was made between Lithuania and the Principality of Smolensk. Despite the initiatives taken in the economic sphere, during the Gediminas administration the Grand Duchy continued to lack its own currency, with trade being conducted by means of the so-called long coin (in Lithuanian Lietuviškas ilgasis), a thin silver ingot weighing between 108 and 196.2 grams.

As for the capital of the Grand Duchy, he first moved it to the newly built city of Trakai, moving it a second time permanently to Vilnius sometime after 1320. Today's Lithuanian capital is first mentioned in written documents in January 1323. According to one legend, during a hunting trip Gediminas dreamed of a wolf made of iron standing on a hill and howling strangely, almost as if thousands of wolves were making the same cry with him at the same time. He revealed his vision to his priest, Lizdeika, and she told him that the dream should be interpreted as a sign that a city should be built on the exact spot where the wolf was howling. The grand duke therefore decided to erect a fortification on the confluence of the Vilnia and Neris rivers, that is, the place seen in the dream. According to Rowell, the core of the original city consisted of the wooden castle of the ruler, surrounded by stone walls and all the buildings that made it possible to supplement the needs of the court (offices of scribes, interpreters, etc.).

While he allowed Catholic monastic communities to enter the Grand Duchy and interact with their worshippers and passing foreigners, he unthinkingly punished any attempt to convert pagan Lithuanians or aimed at denigrating the ancient local creed. This context explains the execution of two Franciscan friars who had come from Bohemia named Ulrich and Martin around 1339-1340, who were guilty of repeatedly condemning Lithuanian beliefs in public. When Gediminas ordered them to abjure their sermons, they refused and the ruler had them killed.

Death and succession

Based on available sources, Gediminas died in the winter between 1341 and 1342. Originating on the basis of a confusion ascribed to the Polish chronicler Jan Długosz, a local legend has it instead that the ruler died in the course of the 1337 assault on the crusaders' fortress of Bayerburg, struck by a dart that pierced him while he was standing at the foot of an oak tree located close to the defensive structure. Given his sudden disappearance from Crusader writings without any mention of a confrontation, it is more likely to infer that he did not perish fighting on a battlefield. Recently, a Lithuanian scholar, Alvydas Nikžentaitis, has traced the episode of the aforementioned execution of Friars Ulric and Martin in 1339-1340, guilty of denigrating Baltic mythology, to a possible plot against the grand duke hatched by John I of Bohemia. According to the author, when the prospect of Gediminas' conversion faded, John conspired and eliminated the ruler with the intent of bringing the pagan domain back within Bohemia's area of influence. Rowell called this reconstruction "interesting," but pointed out that John also joined the holy wars much further afield in Spain and was not really interested in the prospect of imposing his hegemony in Baltic territory.

Gediminas died as a pagan, and on the occasion of his death a large funeral was organized in traditional style, for which a large pyre was made and human sacrifices were performed. Hoping to preserve what he had already possessed and what he had conquered during his lifetime, he divided the administration of the various areas of the Grand Duchy among his sons and ceded the role of central authority to Jaunutis. Thus, on the basis of the account provided by Lithuanian chronicles and the blood ties forged by the various Gediminids, it has been reconstructed that Manvydas received Kernave and Slonim, Narimantas Pinsk, Algirdas Krėva and Vicebsk, Karijotas Navahrudak, Kęstutis Trakai and Samogizia, and finally Liubartas Volinia. No mention is reserved by the sources, however, for any bequest intended for his daughters. Jaunutis proved unable to control the unrest that erupted in the country, however, and went on to be deposed in 1345 by his brothers Algirdas and Kęstutis.

In Latin, the title of Gediminas was given in full as Gedeminne Dei gratia Letwinorum et multorum Ruthenorum rex, translatable as "Gediminas, by the grace of God, king of the Lithuanians and the many Ruthenians." In his letters to the papacy of 1322 and 1323, he adds Princeps et Dux Semigalliae (Prince and Duke of Semigallia). In the Low-German language the suffix is Koningh van Lettowen, the corresponding version of the Latin formula Rex Lethowyae (they both mean "King of Lithuania"). Gediminas' right to employ the term rex, which the papacy claimed the right to grant from the 13th century onward, was not universally recognized by Catholic sources. For this reason he is referred to in one writing as rex sive dux ("King or Duke"). Pope John XXII, in a letter to the king of France, referred to Gediminas as "the one who calls himself rex." In his missives, the pontiff labels the Baltic ruler as rex when addressing him (regem sive ducem, "king or duke").

It is unclear how many wives Gediminas had, but the Chronicle of Bychowiec mentions three: Vida of Courland, Olga of Smolensk, and Jewna of Polock, who was of the Orthodox faith and died in 1344 or 1345. Most modern historians and reference works state that Gediminas' wife was Jewna, as they believe that a hypothetical marriage to an Oriental princess surely would have been witnessed by some source.

Another work claims that Gediminas had two wives, one pagan and one Orthodox, but this reconstruction is found only in the Jüngere Hochmeisterchronik, a chronicle from the late 15th century that considers Narimantas a half-brother of Algirdas. One strand of scholars has considered such an account credible, as this would explain Gediminas' otherwise incomprehensible designation of a middle son, namely Jaunutis. Perhaps, following this reconstruction, Jaunutis should be considered as the eldest son of Gediminas and his second wife. However, other academics, including Rowell, have found the hypothesis of only two consorts to be unreliable.

Gediminas is believed to have had seven sons and six daughters, a family tree of which is given below.

The grand duke consolidated the power of a new Lithuanian dynasty, that of the Gediminids, whose cadet branch of the Jagellons succeeded in the future in prominent political positions in Poland, Hungary, and Bohemia. Gediminas is also credited with initiating, or at least greatly accelerating in later times the first ruler of united Lithuania Mindaugas (which is why, somewhat emphatically, he is sometimes called the "true" founder of the state.

Other authors have appeared more cautious in their judgments, as they have held that while the grand duke's maneuvers enabled him to acquire various territories in the south and east, relations with the Christian world and the orders of knighthood became strained in the years to come. His inability to overcome the veto of that segment of the nobility that refused to convert to Christianity probably reduced the scope of his innovative reforms and did not solve the problem of isolation in Europe, considering that Lithuania was still considered a remote territory. However, according to Claudio Carpini, it was even a Dominican friar and his influential adviser who dissuaded him from seriously considering conversion, believing that the Crusaders would not tolerate the scenario of a totally autonomous Lithuania. Involvement in wars with Poland, Hungary (as part of the Galicia-Volinia wars) and Muscovy had repercussions that Gediminas's successors would deal with at their own expense.

It remains true, however, that Gediminas' main goal throughout his life concerned preventing the Christian orders from subduing Lithuania, and he succeeded. His policy of religious tolerance led to the development of a multicultural and multiethnic country; with particular reference to the Orthodox religion, he sought to instrumentalize it by posing as a defender of that faith, hoping to strengthen Lithuanian authority in the eastern lands. Upon his death he secured Lithuania's ultimate recognition as a centralized state and as a fearsome military power, but it is undeniable that its expansion was fostered by the assimilation of various small eastern principalities that took place without bloodshed and only by effectively organized arranged arranged marriages, leveraging the fear of a common enemy, making lucrative trade agreements and resorting to diplomacy.

The account of the founding of the capital was a source of inspiration for Romantic poets, particularly Adam Mickiewicz, who summarized the story in verse in the fourth book of his Pan Tadeusz.

The Order of Grand Duke Gediminas (in Lithuanian Lietuvos viijojo kunigaikščio Gedimino Ordino Karininko kryžius) owes its name to the medieval ruler; established by a law enacted by the Lithuanian Parliament on February 16, 1928, the award is given to Lithuanian citizens who have distinguished themselves "for special civilian merits and in the comparisons in the Administration," and the medal consists of Gediminas' columns in the center and several stylized outer lines.

Gediminas is depicted on a commemorative silver litas issued in 1996, and his name has been assigned to several infrastructures across the nation, such as a bridge near Kupiškis and a famous Vilnius street, Gediminas Avenue. One of his sculptures, along with that of his grandson Vitoldo, is among those made in the 1862 monument dedicated to Russia's Millennium in Novgorod.

The Lithuanian folk music group Kūlgrinda released an album in 2009 entitled Giesmės Valdovui Gediminui, which means "Hymns to King Gediminas."

In Belarus

Gediminas is also widely celebrated in Belarus, as he is considered an important figure in national history. In September 2019, a monument to Gediminas was unveiled in Lida. There is also an avenue called Bulvar Hiedymina also in Lida, as well as several businesses named after him; finally, a type of beer, now discontinued, was dedicated to Gediminas by the Lidskaje piva brewery based in Lida.


  1. Gediminas
  2. Gediminas
  3. ^ Sin da quando fu costituito nel 1237, l'Ordine di Livonia risultava una branca dell'Ordine teutonico, ma ciò non gli impedì di esercitare, in maniera tutto sommato autonoma, la sua autorità sulla Terra Mariana, corrispondente grosso modo alla regione storico-geografica della Livonia. L'Ordine teutonico, invece, amministrava lo Stato monastico dei Cavalieri Teutonici, in Prussia.
  4. ^ Secondo Maciej Stryjkowski, questa figlia dal nome ignoto avrebbe sposato Davide di Hrodna, un comandante militare particolarmente fidato di Gediminas. Tuttavia, sulla base delle fonti oggi a disposizione quest'ipotesi è da ritenersi priva di fondamento: Rowell, p. 82.
  5. ^ Gediminas' letter to Lübeck, 1323.VII.18
  6. ^ Gediminas' letter to Riga, 1326.III.2
  7. ^ a b c Plakans 2011, p. 51
  8. a b c Rowell, Lithuania Ascending, p. 63.
  9. 1,0 1,1 1,2 Plakans 2011, σελ. 51
  10. Christiansen 1980, σελ. 154

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