Lithuania: Early History to the Nineteenth Century
Early History to the Nineteenth Century
The pagan Liths, or Lithuanians, may have settled along the Nemen as early as 1500
The grand dukes Gedimin (1316–41) and Olgerd (1345–77) expanded their territories at the expense of the neighboring Russian principalities, which were weakened by the Mongol invasion. Lithuania became one of the largest states of medieval Europe, including all of what is now Belarus, a large part of Ukraine, and sections of European Russia; at its furthest extent it touched the Black Sea. Olgerd's son, Jagiello, became king of Poland in 1386 as Ladislaus II by his marriage with Jadwiga, daughter of Louis I of Poland and Hungary. He accepted and introduced Christianity.
The union between Lithuania and Poland had at first the character of an alliance between independent nations. Witowt, a cousin of Ladislaus II, ruled Lithuania independently (1392–1430) and brought it to the height of its power and expansion. In 1410 the Polish-Lithuanian forces severely defeated the Teutonic Knights at Tannenberg and Novgorod.
After Witowt's death, decline set in. The Belarusians, who had retained their Greek Orthodox faith, inclined toward the rising grand duchy of Moscow. In 1569, hard pressed by the Russians under Ivan IV, Lithuania was joined with Poland by the Union of Lublin to form a commonwealth. The Lithuanian aristocracy and burghers became thoroughly Polonized. By the three successive partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795) Lithuania disappeared as a national unit and passed to Russia.
Sections in this article:
- Modern History
- Early History to the Nineteenth Century
- Land and People
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