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Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas as depicted in the Sapieha Genealogy in Kodeń, 1709
Grand Duke of Lithuania
Preceded by Vytenis
Succeeded by Jaunutis
Personal details
Died 1341

Gediminas (c.1275 – December 1341) was Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1315 or 1316[1][2] 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.[3][4] 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 the establishment of a dynasty that can be traced to other European monarchies such as Poland, Hungary and Bohemia.

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 rulers.


Modern Litas commemorative coin dedicated to Gediminas


Gediminas' normal Latin style is as follows:

  • Gedeminne Dei gratia Letwinorum et multorum Ruthenorum rex[5]

Which translates as:

  • "Gediminas, by the grace of God, of the Lithuanians and many Rus'ians, king"[5]

In his letters to the papacy in 1322 and 1323, he adds Princeps et Dux Semigallie (Prince and Duke of Semigallia).[6] In contemporary Low German he is styled simply Koningh van Lettowen, mirroring the Latin Rex Lethowye (both meaning "King of Lithuania").[5] 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 one source; Pope John XXII, in a letter to the King of France, referred to Gediminas as "the one who calls himself rex". However, the pope did call Gediminas rex when addressing him (regem sive ducem, "king or duke").[6]


Mi83 Grand Duke Gediminas (issued 1920)

Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas on stamp. Issued on August 25, 1920.


Gediminas was born in about 1275.[7] Because written sources of the era are scarce, Gediminas' ancestry, early life, and assumption of the title of 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.[8] 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;[9] 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 Gediminids' 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 that Vytenis and Gediminas were therefore cousins.[9] Gediminas became the Grand Duke in 1316 at the age of 40 and ruled for 25 years.[10]

Choice of religionEdit

He inherited a vast domain, comprising not only of Lithuania proper, but also of Samogitia, Navahradak, Podlachia, Polotsk and Minsk.[11] However, these possessions were all environed by the Teutonic Knights and the Livonian Order, which have long been the enemies of the state.[1] Gediminas allied himself with the Tatars against the Teutonic order in 1319.[12]

Grand Duchy of Lithuania Rus and Samogitia 1434

Position of 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 Pope John XXII soliciting his protection against the persecution of the knights,[13] informing him of the privileges already granted to the Dominicans and Franciscans in Lithuania for the preaching of God's Word.[14] Gediminas also asked that legates should be dispatched to him in order to be baptized.[15] This action was supported by the Archbishop of Riga Frederic Lobestat.[16] Following these events, peace between the Duchy and the Livonian order was eventually conducted on 2 October 1323.[17]

On receiving a favorable reply from the Holy See, Gediminas issued 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.[13][18] 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 churches at 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 baptized 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.[19]

Thus his raid upon Dobrzyńdisambiguation needed, 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 authority of 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.

Peace agreement between Gediminas and Order

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 baptized, and the legates showed their confidence in him by forbidding the neighboring 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.[16][20] He had in the meantime improved his position by an alliance with Wladislaus Lokietek,[21] king of Poland, and had his daughter Aldona baptized for the sake of betrothing her to Władysław's son Casimir III.[22]

An alternative view of these events was proposed by an American 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 Žemaitija and Aukštaitija. Both the pagans of Aukštalija and the Orthodox Rus' threatened Gediminas with death if he decided to convert, where a similar scenario also happened to Mindaugas, which he desperately wanted to avoid.[23]

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 offence.

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.[19] Therefore, it is still unclear whether the letters sent to the Pope were an actual request for conversion or simply a diplomatic maneuver.[24]

Incorporation of Slavic landsEdit


Gediminas Castle in Lida (reconstruction).

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,[4][25] whose incessant conflicts with each other wrought the ruin of them all. Here Gediminas triumphal 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 Kiev sending 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.[26]

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 deathEdit

File:Gediminas Monument in Vilnius.JPG

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.[27] At first he moved the capital to the newly built town of Trakai, but in c. 1320 re-established a permanent capital in Vilnius.[28]

Gediminas died in 1341,[12][29] presumably killed during a coup d'état.[29] 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.[30] 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,[31] as a result of which he was deposed in 1345 by his brother Algirdas.[32]


1000 Gediminas

Gediminas on the 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.[1]

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. He consulted his vision with his priests and decided to build a fortification on the confluence of rivers Vilnia and Neris, where the place of his vision was pointed out.[28][33][34] This event inspired the Romantic movement, particularly Adam Mickiewicz, who gave the story a poetic form.[35]

Gediminas is depicted on a silver Litas commemorative coin, issued in 1996.[36]


File:Gediminas Monument, Vilnius.JPG
Lithuania Raudone Gediminas Oak

An oak in Raudone under which Gediminas is reputed to have been mortally wounded.

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.[37] 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.[38]

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[39] designation of a middle son, Jaunutis, as his succession would be understandable if Jaunutis were the first-born son of Gediminas and a second wife.

He is said to have left seven sons and six daughters including:


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Plakans 2011, p. 51
  2. Christiansen 1980, p. 154
  3. Pelenski 1998
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bugajski 2002, p. 125
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Rowell 1994, p. 63
  6. 6.0 6.1 Rowell 1994, p. 64
  7. Tęgowski 1999, p. 15
  8. Vjachaslaў Nasevіch. Gedzіmіn // Vjalіkae knjastva Lіtoўskae: Эncыklapedыja. U 3 t. / rэd. G. P. Pashkoў і іnsh. T. 1: Abalenskі — Kadэncыja. — Mіnsk: Belaruskaja Эncыklapedыja, 2005. S. 519.
  9. 9.0 9.1 (Lithuanian) Baranauskas, Tomas (1996-11-23). "Gedimino kilmė". p. 6. Archived from the original on October 6, 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-10. 
  10. Kiaupa 2000, p. 114
  11. The new encyclopædia Britannica: Volume 5
  12. 12.0 12.1 Akiner 2009, p. 22
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Letters of Gediminas". Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences. Winter 1969. Retrieved 23 April 2011. 
  14. Housley 1986, p. 274
  15. Muldoon 1997, p. 135
  16. 16.0 16.1 Slavonic and East European review, Volume 32; Published by the Modern Humanities Research Association for the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, 1953
  17. Kiaupa 2000, p. 115
  18. Chase 1946, p. 24
  19. 19.0 19.1 O'Connor 2003, p. 15
  20. Olins 1928, p. 60
  21. Lietuvos aukštųjų mokyklų mokslo darbai: Istorija, Volume 36, Alna litera, 1997
  22. Christiansen 1980, p. 147
  23. Rowell 1994, p. 223
  24. Muldoon 1997, p. 134
  25. Ertl 2008, p. 402
  26. Smith 1991, p. 356
  27. Purton 2009, p. 154
  28. 28.0 28.1 Rutter 1925, p. 20
  29. 29.0 29.1 Taylor 2008, p. 20
  30. Jones-Bley & Huld 1996, p. 210
  31. W. Ingrao & A. J. Szabo 2008, p. 52
  32. R. Turnbull 2003, p. 14
  33. University of Colorado 1968, p. 140
  34. Grossman 1979, p. 157
  35. Metelsky 1959, p. 37
  36. "Lithuanian Coins in Circulation, Issue of 1996". Bank of Lithuania. Retrieved 23 April 2011. 
  37. (Lithuanian) Ivinskis, Zenonas (1953–1966). "Jaunė". Lietuvių enciklopedija. IX. Boston, Massachusetts: Lietuvių enciklopedijos leidykla. pp. 335. Library of Congress Classification 55020366. 
  38. (Lithuanian) Vytautas Spečiūnas, ed (2004). "Jaunutis". Lietuvos valdovai (XIII-XVIII a.): enciklopedinis žinynas. Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidybos institutas. pp. 38, 46. ISBN 5-420-01535-8. 
  39. Kiaupa 2000, p. 118


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External linksEdit

Preceded by
Monarch of Lithuania
Succeeded by

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