History of Lithuania

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The history of Lithuania is closely linked to that of the Kievan Rus , the history of Russia , the history of Germany and especially the history of Poland and the history of Belarus . The first mention of Lithuania in Western sources comes from the year 1009. Lithuania appeared as a unified state in the 13th century at the latest.

Western powers viewed the Baltic Lithuanians as the last refuge of European “ paganism ”, a potential mission area for the church and an expansion area for the Livonian and Prussian aristocracy . Members of the Mindaugas dynasty exploited the weakness of the Kievan Rus after the Mongol invasion of 1240 and subjugated parts of the Rus on the upper Daugava between 1240 and 1250 . After a period of inner confusion after the death of Mindaugas', agreed and extended the Grand Duke Vytenis , Gediminas and Algirdas from 1293 to 1377, the Lithuanian Empire to the south and eastern parts of Kievan Rus to the gates of Moscow and to the Black Sea , previously had been under the control of the Golden Horde . In the north and west, the Lithuanians were able to successfully assert themselves against the advance of the Teutonic Order in Livonia and Prussia .

From 1385, the great power entered into a personal union with the Kingdom of Poland , under the leadership of the Lithuanian Jagiellonians , who Christianized the pagan heartland of Lithuania . In the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410, the Union defeated the Grand Master's army . The connection with Poland was strengthened in 1569 in the Real Union at Lublin . From then on Lithuania went together with Poland in the newly created aristocratic republic . The continuing internal and external decline of Poland-Lithuania from 1648 onwards led to Lithuania disappearing from the political map of Europe together with Poland in 1795 after several partitions .

Lithuania remained part of the Russian Empire until 1917 and gained independence in 1918. On June 15, 1940, the Red Army entered Lithuania. The Lithuanian SSR was officially established on July 21, 1940, and shortly thereafter joined the Soviet Union. From 1941 to 1944 Lithuania was occupied by the Wehrmacht and belonged to the Reichskommissariat Ostland . From 1945 to 1990 the Lithuanian SSR again existed as part of the Soviet Union (USSR). In the course of perestroika , after free elections on March 11, 1990, the declaration of independence was passed, which in Lithuania was seen as the restoration of independence gained in 1918 and lost by the Hitler-Stalin Pact . Lithuania became a member of the EU and NATO in 2004 .

Paleolithic (Paleolithic)

Lithuania became ice-free relatively late. The last glaciers retreated around 16,000 years ago, leaving behind a large postglacial lake, from which individual bodies of water gradually emerged. Human settlement is documented from the Alleröd (late glacial, from 12,700 BC). The herds of reindeer followed by the respective groups of hunters had migrated north. The most important source of food for the remaining population was the standing game, primarily the elk. During the Younger Tundra Season it got colder again. The people hunted the migrated reindeer and lived in tents.

With the end of the Paleolithic Age, different cultures spread in Lithuania. Deposits of the hunters of the Ahrensburg culture have been proven in the vicinity of Vilnius, partly in connection with finds that are similar to those of the Bromme culture (also Lyngby culture). The Upper Paleolithic, so-called "Baltic Magdalenian" can be connected with this culture of the western Baltic Sea. This is mainly widespread in the western Baltic states, e.g. B. with about 40 sites mainly on the banks of the Nemunas , Neris and Merkys . They lie on the high river terraces and, in addition to short scratches made of flint, contain the characteristic large stem tips .

Swideria, which is widespread east of the Oder, is also documented on the Vistula , the Bug and the Nemunas. It differs from the “Baltic Magdalenian” primarily in the long, narrow arrowheads that often have flat retouches on the reverse . The sites are also on the river terraces of the Nemunas and Merkys. Around 60 places where the culture lived could be discovered in Lithuania.

The largest in terms of numbers is the so-called hybrid culture, in which features of the “Swiderien” and the “Baltic Magdalenian” can be found in one find complex, whereby the proportion on the individual sites can be very different. The hybrid culture was widespread in a strip between the Oder and the Nemunas from Lithuania to central Poland.

Paleolithic hunters and gatherers traveled distances of up to 100 km in search of good quality flint . Valuable sites were repeatedly visited. In the flint mine of Ezerynai (southern Lithuania) 24 were whipped places for flint found. Most of the finds are residues, such as shapeless chips and damaged core stones and flint blades. At the workplaces there were also scrapers that are reminiscent of flint axes and do not appear anywhere else.

Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic)

With the end of the Younger Tundra Period (Dryas) around 9600 BC. The temperatures rose sharply up to the Atlantic , but repeatedly interrupted by cold relapses. The water level of the rivers and lakes fluctuated strongly, which caused a changing altitude of the residential areas. The flora also changed. At the beginning of the Mesolithic, birch dominated, then pine, hazelnut, and other deciduous trees began to expand. The reindeer moved north again, the animal world became more species-rich.

There were four cultures in Lithuania during the Mesolithic. During the older Mesolithic the Maglemose -, the Neman / Nemunas - and in the north the Kunda culture . Typical of Kunda culture is the extensive inventory of bone and antler artefacts, such as fish hooks, ice picks, hoes, harpoons, tools for tying nets and spout axes. Compared to the Nemunas culture, the flint inventory in the settlements of the Narva culture, especially its western variant, is very sparse. The stone tools include polished axes, grinding and whetstones and sink stones for fishing nets. It differed from the Neman culture in the different composition of the equipment inventories. To process the animal skins were scrapers, for harder materials graver used and scrapers. Oval core axes and disk axes made from large cuts were part of the equipment inventory of the residential areas. Bone and antler artifacts supplemented the inventories. Toothed and notched harpoons were found . Lance tips with round and triangular cross-section and those with inserts of flint blades. For the oval axes , antler frames and wooden shafts were made. For fishing , nets were tied from linden bast. Due to the sinking of the water level in the Baltic Sea, the Mesolithic people had access to the rich flint stocks on the lower river terraces.

Most of the Mesolithic sites are relatively small and were only briefly inhabited. Their areas were 200 to 500 m². The finds are scattered over larger areas in places to which one probably returned more often.

In 1985 and 1986, three Mesolithic tombs were discovered in western Lithuania on the Spiginas Island in Lake Birzulis. The dead were stretched out and buried, sprinkled with ocher . Next to the skeletons lay flint arrowheads and pierced teeth from deer, elk and beavers that were worn as pendants.

Neolithic Age (Neolithic)

The Neolithic in Lithuania can be divided into two periods, the early and middle phase (4th millennium BC) and the late (3rd millennium to the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC). At the beginning of the Neolithic the climate, although already cooler than in the Atlantic , was still more favorable than today, the winters were milder and the growing season lasted longer than today. It became cooler in the late Neolithic. The population of pine, birch and alder increased, while oak, linden and elm grew less.

In the early Neolithic, two related cultures developed in Lithuania and in the north of East Prussia : the Narva culture from the Mesolithic Kunda culture and the Nemunas culture . According to our terms, both are not actually Neolithic, but retained the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer culture, but already owned ceramics. The long adherence to the old way of life can be explained by the spread of seal hunting on the coast.

The most widespread type of ceramic from this early phase are pointed-bottom vessels with wide mouths and sparse decorations. Often only the edges of the vessels are decorated with triangular impressions (so-called dimple ceramics ). In the Middle Neolithic, the vessels became shorter and wider. Flat soils only appear in the late phase.

The late Neolithic since around 2700 BC Chr. Is characterized by a local expression of the cord ceramics with the subgroup of the Haffküsten culture belonging to the boat ax culture . The settlements of the lagoon culture occur in Lithuania especially on the Baltic coast . In the area of ​​the city of Palanga and on the Curonian Spit , about 20 sites are known, of which only Nida was explored. Flat-bottomed vessels and polished boat axes are typical of the lagoon culture . There are only mineral admixtures in the clay mass of the ceramic. When making ornate, ornamented pots, sand or ground granite was added. Large pots intended for everyday use were mixed with coarse granite splinters and finely chopped shards of vessels to make them lean . The ceramics can be divided into amphorae, mugs, round bowls, smaller oblong bowls, wide-mouthed pots and small cups. The pots were adorned with herringbone patterns, string, bundle of lines, tooth stick decorations and bead rings. Most often the upper part was decorated.

The first fortified settlements arose in Lithuania in the late Neolithic. They had an enclosure made up of two or three parallel rows of driven posts that surrounded the settlement in an irregular arc. The residential buildings were angular post constructions or oval accommodations somewhat sunk into the ground. The fireplaces were laid out in small depressions and had no stone setting.

The hunt was still very important. This is evidenced by the many arrow and lance heads that can be found in all settlements, as well as tools made of wood (bows and lances), stone and animal bones. From the bones one can conclude that in the early Neolithic mainly moose and wild boar were hunted, in the middle Neolithic age deer, roe deer, wild boar and bison and in the later phase hares, horses and bison were hunted. In all periods fur animals, birds and seals were hunted in the Baltic Sea . In the Neolithic, fishing developed particularly strongly. Pike and zander were mainly caught in rivers and lakes, but also lead, tench and catfish, and cod, flounder and tuna on the coast. Simple fishing equipment from the Mesolithic, such as harpoons, wooden fish cutters, lances and wooden mallets were used. In addition, the fishermen used nets and pots. The nets were made from linden bast. The upper part of the net was held in place by swimmers made from birch or pine bark. The lower power unit was weighted down with sink stones . It is hard to imagine fishing without dugout canoes made from a hollowed-out tree trunk.

In addition, collecting hazelnuts and water nuts was an important source of food. Charred wild apples were found in the settlement of Nidden. Probably they were dried as a supply. Tubers and other vegetable foods were dug out of antlers and wood with spades.

The beginning of a comparatively rudimentary agriculture can be proven in Lithuania for the middle and later Neolithic. Furrow sticks made of ash wood are important evidence . They were designed for furrowing, but not for plowing up wasteland. Stone picks were used for this. In the Neolithic settlements, in addition to the bones of dogs, those of cattle, sheep / goats and pigs were found, which allow conclusions to be drawn about livestock farming. Compared to the bones of the hunted animals, they form only a small part. Wooden devices such as spoons, ladles, mortar clubs and bowls were used in the household. Baskets are woven from birch bark . Fibers were obtained from linden and willow bast, and from the middle of the Neolithic also from hemp . Fragments of mats and their prints were found on the bottoms of vessels. Wooden distaffs and spindle whorls were used for spinning . Imprints of fabric were found on the walls of the vessel; in the settlement of Šventoji 2B even a scrap of cloth.

Amber jewelry was especially popular on the coast. It mostly consists of oval, square and trapezoidal pendants, some of which are decorated with rows of dots. The most common jewelry items include lenticular buttons with a V-hole and tubular beads . The most realistic art products include ritual wands with elk heads, which refer to a tradition independent of corded ceramics. The artist who made the carefully cut rod from Šventoji 2B knew the animal's anatomy very well.

Images of people that are much more schematic than those of animals are also common. They are small amulets or stylized forms incised on the walls of the vessel or larger wooden sculptures . One of the most impressive is a two-meter-tall sculpture from the Šventoji 2B settlement. It was made from a black alder post. The bark is only missing on the elongated face and neck area of ​​the plastic. The curvature of the post can still be seen on the forehead. The eye sockets are deepened from the brows to the chin and form the narrow nose. Instead of the mouth, a curve of the chin can be seen.

In the early and middle Neolithic, the dead were buried in the settlements or in close proximity. The deceased were buried stretched out in different orientations. In four tombs of the Narva culture lay a lanceolate arrowhead made of flint, polished bone chisels, a bone dagger and the pointed tusks of a wild boar boar. Two skeletons were strewn with ocher . In the early Neolithic, burials were also carried out in stool positions.

Bronze Age and Early Iron Age

(15th century BC to 1st century AD)

Although the Bronze Age began early in Central Europe, knowledge of metals only reached the Baltic States with a very long delay. There were no metal deposits in the Baltic Sea region and there was no significant barter with the metallurgy centers. Amber was a coveted raw material as early as the late Neolithic, but exports worth mentioning began in the 16th century BC. However, only the area with the most abundant amber deposits on the coasts of East Prussia benefited from this. Amber was so sought after that bronze axes, arm rings, daggers, robe pins and even gold jewelry came here.

The Baltic region was culturally divided into two zones that continued into the Middle Ages . East Prussia and the Lithuanian-Latvian coast became the economic catchment area of ​​Central Europe through the amber and received cultural impulses from there.

Today's Lithuania and Latvia were less exposed to the influences and persisted in archaic forms of life. These forms of life remained in a remarkably pure form in some areas until the 19th century, of which Lithuanian, as the most primitive Indo-European language, is an example. The East Baltic region, the circle of the "castle hill cultures", has hardly any bronze devices to show. It comprises various nameless groups in the distribution area of ​​Baltic water names. These groups settled in smaller or larger fortified settlements, or on the more strongly fortified so-called castle hills. The population built post structures (instead of huts sunk into the ground) and lived mainly from cattle breeding and hunting. Cultural differences are only noticeable in the pottery. The ceramic is simple and only in the upper part is decorated with lines, which is why one in the 1st millennium BC. Chr. Speaks of "line ceramic culture". Their distribution extends from the Berezina in the east, a tributary of the Dnepr , to Courland in the west. There are hundreds of fortified settlements of the line ceramic culture in Lithuania that have been continuously inhabited for centuries or millennia. They are preferably located on steep banks over lakes or river banks and are of different sizes with areas between 100 and 5000 m². Older hill settlements were fenced in with palisades. The Iron Age castle hills were fortified with trenches and ramparts made of stone, earth and wood, some of which have been remarkably well preserved. But even if they are pretty much destroyed today, they represent the most important source of life and economic activity for the Lithuanians, because the settlements on the plains have now been almost completely destroyed by agriculture and graves of the castle hill culture are almost unknown.

Animal husbandry continued to play a major role in nutrition. The proportion of domestic animals in bone material is 78% in Norkǔnai, 87% in Sokiškiai and even 93% in Nevieriške. Mainly pigs (around 50%) and cattle (almost 30%) were kept, less often small animals and horses. Bear, beaver, elk, deer and wild boar were hunted, and they also supplied skins, antlers, leather and furs. The menu was supplemented by fish, as indicated by fishhooks, harpoons made of bones and clay net countersinks. Since metals were still an unattainable luxury, they were also used in the 1st millennium BC. Bone and stone tools.

The one from the end of the 2nd millennium BC can be considered typical. The castle hill of Nevieriške was inhabited until the 1st century AD, from which around 250 stone implements were made, including 92 hatchets and 40 shaft axes (including unfinished specimens that show that they were made on site), but only one millstone. The stock looks similar on other castle hills. The rare millstones indicate that little grain was grown during this period. Obviously, at this stage, as in the previous millennia, plant food was obtained by gathering.

The majority of the finds consist of jewelry made of bones, weapons and tools. Axes, daggers, chisels, awls , arrows and lances were made from familiar materials . Jewelry is mainly represented by decorative needles, some of which are based on bronze specimens. Bronze needles or their fragments were also found on the castle hills. Between 1500 and 1000 BC Devices and jewelry made of metal are still rare. During the early Iron Age, bronze axes, pendants, arm and neck rings, lance tips, needles and sickles became more common. Originally they were imports, but fragments of casting molds and small melting pots prove the presence of bronze smiths who knew how to process scrap metal on the castle hill finds. As confirmed by the metal analysis, the Baltic material is similar to the bronze used in Central Europe. Iron objects (knives, awls, occasionally fibulae) and iron slag appear only sparsely in the youngest cultural layers of the castle mountains.

It is believed that the ancestors of the Balts were around 3000-2500 BC. BC reached today's Baltic areas and assimilated the residents. Where these came from is controversial, as is the question of the original home of the Indo-Europeans from which they descended. The territory in which the Balts settled covered around 800,000 km²: from the Baltic Sea to the Upper Volga and the Dnieper . Estimates assume a population of around 500,000 people. A differentiation of the Balts into Eastern Baltic and Western Baltic is to be assumed from the turn of the times. It takes place from a purely linguistic point of view and is controversial.

The first mention of the western Baltic comes from the Roman historian Tacitus , who wrote about the Aesti ( gentes Aestorium ) at the end of the first century and located their settlement area on the Baltic coast north of the Slavs.

Only after the turn of the first millennium AD did the Baltic tribes known today emerge : Pruzzen , Schemaiten , Jotwinger , Nadrauer , Skalwen , Kuren , Semgallen , Selonen , Galinden , Latgallen , Latvians and Lithuanians . The latter lived in the area between the upper reaches of the Memel (upper reaches) and the Neris .

Middle Ages to 1300

Kernavė castle hill
The settlement areas of the Baltic peoples shortly before Christianization began around 1200

Lithuania was part of the Kievan Rus between about AD 850 and 1230 and was ruled by Rurikids . Until then, the Lithuanian tribes lived under small princes. They had a strict caste division into priests, princes (Prussian Reiks or Rekis, lit. kunigas , lett. Kungs ), warriors, landowners, free people and serfs.

There were no written laws or collections of laws at that time. The supreme power was in the hands of the first priest Kriwe-Kriweito (lit. Krivis Krivaitis ). Murder and theft were punished very severely. The main occupation was agriculture and trade with the Swedes and Slavs.

The name Lithuania (as Litua ) appears in written sources for the first time in 1009 in the Quedlinburg annals in connection with the monk Bruno von Querfurt , who wanted to convert the people there to Christianity :

Passage from the Quedlinburg Annals with mention of Lithuania (31v)

"Sanctus Bruno, qui cognominatur Bonifacius, archiepiscopus et monachus, XI. suae conversionis anno in confinio Rusciae et Lituae a paganis capite plexus, cum suis XVIII, VII. Id. Martii petiit coelos "

"Saint Bruno, who is nicknamed Bonifacius, archbishop and monk, was beheaded in the eleventh year of his conversion in the border area of ​​Russia and Lithuania by pagans with eighteen of his own on March 9th and went to heaven."

- Quedlinburg annals

In the 13th century, the formation of states of the Lithuanian tribes began, much later than among the Slavic neighboring peoples and favored by the loss of power of the Kievan Rus. A first important step towards the unification is the assistance agreement of 20 Lithuanian princes with Galicia-Volhynia in 1219. Already in this document the name of Mindaugas is mentioned as one of the powerful princes. He became the first important ruler of the Lithuanians and was able to expand the rule of Lithuania to the east. In what is now Lithuania, however, he was in competition with the prince of Samogitia , Vykintas . He therefore briefly made a pact with the Teutonic Order , which had been Lithuania's neighbor in the north ( Livonia ) and south-west ( Prussia ) since the end of the Order of the Brothers of the Sword in 1236 . He was baptized in 1251 and was crowned King of Lithuania in 1253. He withdrew the Teutonic Order, the legitimacy under the pretext of proselytizing against Lithuania military action. In addition, he ceded his territories in Samogitia and Schalauen to the order and promised him his entire kingdom in the event of his death. He reversed this after the Samogites under Treniota , who had hitherto been hostile, were able to inflict a heavy defeat on the Teutonic Order in 1260 in the Battle of the Durbe in Courland . He probably swore off the Christian faith and, together with Treniota and supported by uprisings of the Semgallians in Latvia and the pagan Prussians who settled south of Lithuania, was able to secure the Lithuanian territory against the Teutonic Order. Further successes were prevented by internal power struggles in Lithuania, which began with the assassination of Mindaugas by Treniota and only ended with the appointment of Traidenis as Lithuanian Grand Duke in 1270.

Grand Duchy of Lithuania: Rise to a great power in the 14th / 15th centuries century

Lithuania's expansion to the southeast under the Grand Dukes Mindaugas I. Vytenis , Algirdas and Vytautas - the territorial development during the late Middle Ages

In the 14th century, especially under Grand Duke Gediminas and his sons Algirdas and Kęstutis , Lithuania rose to become a major European power. In 1323 Gediminas founded the capital Vilnius . After the Tatars invaded Eastern Europe and the Kievan Rus were broken up, many East Slav princes joined the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, while others became tributaries to Lithuania. Belarus , parts of Ukraine and western Russia were now under Lithuanian rule. That is why the East Slavic language and culture played a role in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania over time . Since there was already a written language here, it was used as the official written language, the so-called Chancellery Slavonic , of the Grand Duchy. On the western border, Gediminas and his son Kęstutis were able to parry the constant advances of the knights of the order (see: Lithuanian Wars of the Teutonic Order ) who repeatedly undertook “journeys” deep into Lithuanian territory from Prussia, but were never able to significantly weaken the Lithuanians.

After the death of the Polish king Casimir III. the Great (Kazimierz III Wielki) opened up in 1385/86 for Jogaila, the son of Algirdas, the opportunity to acquire the Polish royal crown by converting to Christianity by marrying Kasimir's granddaughter Jadwiga Andegaweńska ( Hedwig von Anjou ). So Jogaila was baptized, married into the Union of Krewo with Poland's queen and ascended the Polish throne as King Władysław II Jagiełło . He established the ruling house of the Jagiellonian and a feudal relationship between the Polish and Lithuanian rulers in personal union. 1387 is therefore considered to be the year of the final "baptism" of Lithuania, although 1413 is the date of Christianization for parts of Lower Lithuania. The personal union of Krewo resulted in a number of other, increasingly stable unions (1401, 1413, 1432, 1499, 1501) between the two countries. Jogaila's attempts to unite both kingdoms during his reign were successfully thwarted by his co-regent Vytautas. After years of quarreling with his cousin Vytautas about power in the Lithuanian Grand Duchy, in which Jogaila was unable to assert himself militarily against Vytautas, who pacted with the Teutonic Order, the two cousins ​​agreed to share power in 1401: Jogaila (Władysław II Jagiełło) was Polish King for the west (the Polish territories) and Vytautas as Lithuanian Grand Duke responsible for the east.

The personal union had far-reaching consequences for the Orthodox population. The status quo was maintained, but as a result the Orthodox were worse off than the Catholic Poles and now also the Lithuanians. At first, Christianization was limited to the princes and the pagan population in the Lithuanian areas and left the population in the ruled areas of the former Rus unmolested. However, as part of the mission of the western church and expansion of influence, Lithuania was instrumentalized by Rome and the Kingdom of Poland. This provoked a series of conflicts with the Grand Duchy of Moscow , which was able to position itself as the defender of the interests of the Orthodox population. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania saw itself as the rightful heir of the Rus ( magnus dux Littwanie, Samathie et Rusie ) and became a competitor of the Grand Duchy of Moscow in the collection of Russian soil . Vytautas in particular pursued ambitious plans to conquer the Rus in order to evade the supremacy of the union with Poland, which had existed since 1386. The eastward expansion of Lithuania ended in 1399 after the defeat by the Tatars in the Battle of the Worskla . Vytautas gave up the plan to gain control of all of Russia for himself. This was followed by a reorientation in foreign policy towards the west. With combined forces (they also received support from Hungary), Vytautas and Jogaila took action against the Teutonic Order in the period that followed. It was possible to pacify the western border. The foundation stone for the military success was the battle of Tannenberg on July 15, 1410 (Lithuanian Žalgiris ), during which the armed forces of the Teutonic Order in Prussia were crushed. The army contingent of the Livonian order branch did not take part in this battle due to a separate armistice. After that, Vytautas, who ruled until his death in 1430, was able to orientate himself to the south and east and extend the territory of Lithuania to the shores of the Black Sea.

Due to the weakness of the Rus successor principalities and the victories against the order, the personal union Poland-Lithuania formed the most powerful political entity in Eastern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, even if the advance of the Moscow Grand Duke Ivan III. Lithuania had been in retreat since 1494 and had to move the eastern border back to the Dnieper and the Sos after the conquest of Smolensk in 1514 by the Muscovites.

State union Poland-Lithuania in the 15th-18th centuries century

Grand Duchy of Lithuania as part of the dual state of Poland-Lithuania around 1618

After Vytautas died childless, Jogaila († 1434) was able to place his son Casimir as the Grand Duke of Lithuania. In the following 100 years, the Polish influence increased more and more through this close connection (the later Polish king ruled the Grand Duchy of Lithuania). At the same time, the Grand Duchy of Moscow rose to become a new threatening power on the eastern border. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was considerably weakened by the Moscow attacks (including the Livonian War 1558–1582 / 83). In the Real Union of Lublin of 1569, under the pressure of Moscow's western expansion , Lithuania became part of Poland under the royal crown.

This real union also marked a clear turning point in the history of the (then Lithuanian) Ukraine . The Ukrainian countries, the three voivodships Volhynia , Kiev and Podlasie fell to the Polish part of the empire. Both countries received a common ruler, the Senate and the Reichstag. The monarch was elected in Poland and crowned in Krakow. Every third Reichstag had to take place on Lithuanian soil. Foreign policy and coin constituted union affairs. Poland and Lithuania continued to regulate law, justice, administration, finance and the military independently. This kept the Lithuanian statute of 1566 in place. In the state administration, the Lithuanian nobility retained the right to occupy offices and levy taxes. The military units also continued to be organized on the basis of the Lithuanian aristocratic flag. The preserved privileges did not prevent the Polonization of the Lithuanian nobility. In the Lithuanian statute of 1566, Polish had equal rights with Lithuanian and Latin. The text of the Union Act of Lublin was drawn up exclusively in Polish. In 1696, Polish became the chancellery language and lingua franca of the Lithuanian nobility and clergy in the Lithuanian part of the empire . With that the Polonization was finished. The conversion of the Schemaitic nobility to the union with Sweden in 1655 or the election of the Lithuanian magnate Michael Korybut Wisniowiecki as king of Poland and Lithuania (1669–1673) no longer had any national unifying effect for the Lithuanian nobility.

Administrative division of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 17th century

Through the formation of the Union with Poland and the Polonization , the history of Lithuania between the 16th and 18th centuries coincided to a large extent with the history of the Polish aristocratic republic. This was characterized by constant clashes with Russia, Sweden and the Ottoman Empire. While the aristocratic republic was initially successful in the Livonian War and in the Polish-Russian War from 1609 to 1618 , it repeatedly suffered defeats against Sweden. In the Second Northern War from 1655 to 1660, the aristocratic republic was on the verge of destruction. In the peace treaty of Oliva , Poland-Lithuania finally had to renounce Estonia and Livonia in favor of Sweden. All claims of the Polish Vasa to the Swedish crown had to be dropped and the Duchy of Prussia ceded to Brandenburg. In the Treaty of Andrussowo with Russia in 1667, Poland-Lithuania lost Smolensk, Severija, Czernichow and the left bank Ukraine with Kiev to Russia. After the Great Northern War (1700–1721) Poland-Lithuania became dependent on the Russian Empire for foreign policy .

Lithuania was one of the centers of Jewish culture in Eastern Europe with its own schools, a large library and numerous Bible schools. The prosperity and the relative legal security of the Jews were permanently shaken after 1648 when they suffered severe pogroms during the Cossack uprisings (the so-called Khmelnyzkyi uprising ). This was followed by the exclusion of the Jews, which created an image of the Jewish special existence that had not existed before and led to ever new persecutions.

In the first division of Poland in 1772, the aristocratic republic lost a third of its territory and population. Russia gained Lithuanian territories as far as the Daugava and Dnieper Mountains with a predominantly Belarusian peasant population and an urban population characterized by Jews, as well as a small class of aristocrats. In the second division, the Russian Empire a . a. the rest of the remaining Lithuania. The government in St Petersburg behaved differently towards the newly acquired population. Basically there was religious tolerance. The Polish official and judicial language and the Lithuanian statute from 1566 were retained. Polish institutions such as B. the Sejm were abolished. The Polish-Lithuanian nobility could be transferred to the Russian nobility under certain conditions. The Lithuanian nobility also occupied most of the administrative posts. The Russian government worked closely with the higher clergy on religious issues. The bourgeoisie was also confirmed in its traditional rights. The losers included the Jews and the peasants, who were even more tied to serfdom and who lost their (anyway only a few) documented rights from the aristocratic republic.

19th century / early 20th century

With the third and final partition of Poland in 1795, Lithuania came under Russian rule . After Lithuania became a province of the Russian Empire, the Lithuanian nobility initially retained the idea of ​​preserving the Grand Duchy within Russia. However, this was never put into practice. On the contrary, the country suffered the repression of Russia in 1812 for supporting Napoleon . In 1832, in response to the November uprising of 1830/1831, Vilnius University was closed.

In 1863 the tsarist army put down the major January uprising in Poland and Lithuania. From now on Russia pursued a policy of complete Russification . First, the printing of Lithuanian texts in Latin script was banned. From now on, these had to be written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Second, Lithuanian elementary schools had to close and only Russian teachers were allowed to teach Russian. Russian farmers were also increasingly relocated to Lithuania, where they enjoyed privileges. The estates and manors of the Lithuanian nobles who participated in the uprisings of 1831 and 1863 were confiscated and given to Russian masters. The authorities closed many Catholic churches or converted them to Orthodox.

In the 19th century - as everywhere in Europe - the national movements strengthened in Lithuania and more and more books in Lithuanian appeared . The father of Lithuanian literature is Kristijonas Donelaitis (1713–1780), who wrote his epic “Seasons” ( Metai in Lithuanian ) between 1765–1775 . He lived and worked in Lithuania Minor ( Mažoji Lietuva , northern East Prussia ), where the Lithuanian majority had retained their culture and language to a certain extent. The new generation of intellectuals has been involved in the political and historical education of the Lithuanian nation especially since the 1880s. Jonas Basanavičius , who lived abroad for a long time, played a leading role . He founded the first Lithuanian-language newspaper Aušra ("The Dawn"), which appeared between 1883 and 1886. Another activist, Vincas Kudirka , published the newspaper Varpas ("Bell") from 1885 to 1905 . In times of the ban on printing with Latin letters, these and other works were printed in neighboring East Prussia and smuggled into the country by the so-called knygnešiai ("book bearers").

In 1904 the ban on printing in Latin script was lifted, but censorship remained. The first legal newspaper, Lietuvių laikraštis ("The Lithuanian Newspaper"), appeared on November 24, 1904 in Saint Petersburg , followed by Vilniaus žinios ("Vilnius News") on December 10, 1904. On December 4 and 5, 1905 Didysis Vilniaus Seimas (the Great Vilnius Landtag) gathered and declared the autonomy of the Lithuanian state within the Russian Empire . As a result, the Lithuanian language was reintroduced into schools.

During the First World War , Germany occupied the Lithuanian territories in 1915 and, under the leadership of General Erich Ludendorff, combined them to form an Upper East administrative unit . Towards the end of the World War, the formal independence of Lithuania, but practically as a satellite of the German Empire, as a kingdom under Mindaugas II was sought. Germany only wanted to recognize Lithuania as a sovereign state if it entered into economic and military union with the Reich. On December 11, 1917, the Taryba declared the restoration of the "independent" state of Lithuania with the capital Vilnius and ties to the German Empire . As Germany delayed recognition, the Taryba again proclaimed Lithuania's independence on February 16, 1918, without any ties to the other states. This day is a national holiday .

First Lithuanian Republic

Map of Lithuania before 1923
Declaration of independence of February 16, 1918

The end of the First World War brought the establishment of the First Lithuanian Republic, whose file was signed in Vilnius in what is now the Museum of Signatories in Lithuania on February 16, 1918. However, the young republic could not defend itself against the territorial claims of Poland on the predominantly Polish-inhabited areas of Lithuania around Vilnius , which had been occupied by the troops of the Polish Marshal Józef Piłsudski in the Polish-Lithuanian War in 1920 .

The Polish occupation of eastern Lithuania (and the proclamation of Litwa Środkowa ) was de facto recognized by the League of Nations . So Kaunas became the "temporary capital" of Lithuania. For its part, on January 10, 1923, Lithuania annexed the Memelland , i.e. the part of East Prussia north of the Memel with the port city of Memel (today Klaipėda ). It had been administered by the League of Nations since the end of the First World War. On May 8, 1924, this annexation was recognized by the previous protecting powers in the Memel Convention .

During the period of the First Republic there was a great boom in Lithuanian culture and education, the center of which was the capital Kaunas . On December 17, 1926, Antanas Smetona came to power in a coup and dissolved parliament in order to rule the country in an authoritarian manner. He appointed Augustinas Voldemaras as prime minister. On May 15, 1928, a new constitution was passed, bypassing parliament, giving the president greater powers. At the beginning of 1929, the international press reported on mass arrests in Lithuania , mainly directed against Social Democrats . In 1929 Smetona deposed Voldemaras and took over the management of the country alone. He was re-elected in 1931 and 1938 and remained in office until June 15, 1940.

Second World War

Soviet occupation

Territorial changes of the Lithuanian national territory 1920–1940:                      Today's border with Lithuania (since 1940/1945/1991)                     Border of the Vilnius area: Polish area; claimed by Lithuania (based on the Soviet-Lithuanian Peace Treaty of 1920); annexed by the Soviet Union in the wake of the Hitler-Stalin Pact in September 1939 Five Pointed Star Solid.svgSoviet military bases in Lithuania, established as a result of the Soviet-Lithuanian Assistance Treaty , signed on October 10, 1939
  • Memelland : placed under the administration of the League of Nations under the Treaty of Versailles; annexed by Lithuania in January 1923; Joined the German Reich after an ultimatum, March 22, 1939

  • Suwałki region
  • Area west of the Šešupė river : Lithuanian area; Occupied by the Soviet Union on June 15, 1940, the German Reich waived its claims for a payment of $ 7.5 million on January 10, 1941
  • “Suwałki Triangle”: Polish territory; claimed by Lithuania; Occupied by the German Reich in September 1939
  • South Suwałki region: Polish territory; claimed by Lithuania; occupied by the Soviet Union in September 1939

  • Vilnius / Wilna area
  • Western Vilnius / Wilna area: to Lithuania on the basis of the Soviet-Lithuanian Assistance Treaty of October 10, 1939
  • Western Vilnius / Wilna area: transferred to the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic on November 6, 1940
  • Eastern Vilnius / Wilna area: at no time part of modern Lithuania
  • Soviet soldiers march into Lithuania (June 1940)

    In March 1939, after a German ultimatum , Lithuania had to cede the Memel area back to Germany . Germany and Lithuania then signed a non-aggression pact . In the Hitler-Stalin Pact , Lithuania was initially assigned to the German sphere of influence. After the outbreak of the Second World War , however, this treaty was revised by the German-Soviet Border and Friendship Treaty with a change in the areas of influence. Germany received parts of eastern Poland. Lithuania was assigned to the Soviet Union . The Soviet Union immediately put pressure on the small country and ultimately asked Lithuania to allow military bases of the Red Army in the country.

    After the Soviet ultimatum, the Soviet Union imposed a sham treaty on Lithuania on October 10, 1939, which meant the end of Lithuania's sovereignty. Lithuania was granted the territory of Vilnius, which had previously been occupied by Poland and by the Soviets from September 1939, including the city of Vilnius, and the Soviet Union was able to station its first troops in Lithuania and establish eight airfields to allegedly protect Lithuania.

    On June 15, 1940, the Red Army finally invaded Lithuania and annexed the country. After the aggression, the Lithuanian government was replaced by people loyal to Moscow such as Antanas Sniečkus , the Lithuanian Socialist Republic was declared and admission to the Soviet Union was “requested”. On August 3, 1940, the " Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic " joined the Union of Soviet States.

    During the next twelve months until Germany's attack on the Soviet Union (June 1941), Lithuania was covered with the same measures as the other Soviet-occupied territories: anyone who was suspected of counter-revolutionary, anti-Soviet sentiments or economic sabotage, especially members of the military, political and cultural elite , was imprisoned, deported to the Soviet gulag and in many cases murdered. In view of the terror, a number of Lithuanians declared themselves, contrary to their self-identification, to be members of the German minority who were resettledhome to the Reich ” .

    On June 22, 1941, Germany began the German-Soviet War ; the attacking troops made rapid progress in many places. At the same time, an uprising started by the Berlin-controlled LAF ( Lietuvos Aktyvistu Frontas ) against the withdrawing Red Army. Independence was proclaimed on June 23. At the same time there were pogroms by the LAF against the Jewish population and against communists in Kaunas and elsewhere.

    When the Germans approached there was no time left to deport all those who were still interned in the country to the Soviet Union, Beria (head of the NKVD since November 1938 ) ordered in a secret telegram dated June 24, 1941 that the prisoners on remand and those already convicted who could not be deported should be shot .

    German occupation

    With the German Blitzkrieg in the east - Lithuania was completely occupied within a week - the Jewish population moved into the sights of the new rulers. In the first months of the German attack on the Soviet Union until November 1941 , around 175,000 people were murdered nationwide in excesses of violence under the leadership of the " Rollkommando Hamann" under SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Hamann , supported by a battalion of Lithuanian auxiliary police officers ( Pagalbinės Policijos Tarnybos Batalionas ). Mass arrests of critics and minorities, abductions and deportations of forced laborers began, and the country experienced rapid economic and cultural decline. Thousands of the Jews who were unable to work were shot by the autumn of 1941; estimates assume that around 80,000 Jews were killed in these four months alone. Wehrmacht and civil administration tried to slow down the extermination of the Jews because workers were urgently needed. The remaining 45,000 or so Jews in Lithuania lived mainly in the ghettos of Kaunas , Vilnius and Šiauliai and some smaller ghettos as so-called 'working Jews ' (see Jäger report ). When the advance of the Red Army began , the Kaunas and Šiauliai ghettos were converted into concentration camps, all other ghettos were dissolved and the Jews were deported to extermination camps. When the German troops withdrew, the remaining Jews from Kaunas and Šiauliai were also murdered.

    During the German occupation, Lithuania was subject to the newly established civil administration of the Reichskommissariat Ostland , based in Riga . The country formed the general district of Lithuania with its seat in Kauen , the then German name for Kaunas.

    In Lithuania an attempt was made to implement the so-called bowling alley project, i.e. H. the targeted settlement of certain conquered eastern areas with German emigrants.

    Second Soviet Occupation / Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (1945 to 1990)

    In the autumn of 1944, the Red Army recaptured Lithuania; again a communist government was installed and the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic of 1940 restored. Some Lithuanians fled west with the Germans and later emigrated to Australia , South and North America , where Chicago developed into a center of Lithuanian emigration . In the country, there was a renewed wave of purges with executions, detentions and deportations .

    Many thousands went into the resistance and fought (until around 1953) partisans known as forest brothers (Lithuanian: miško broliai ) against Soviet rule and Russification. In total, the Second World War killed around 200,000 Lithuanian Jews, and over 30,000 more Lithuanians died in the subsequent partisan war against the Soviets.

    The Soviet period brought a large influx of people of different nationalities from other parts of the Soviet Union , especially to the practically deserted port city of Klaipėda and the capital Vilnius . This was followed by a strong industrialization of Lithuania, which until the Second World War was predominantly rural. The aim of the Soviet rulers was to settle as many Russians as possible and to Russify the region . Despite the predominance of Moscow , Lithuania was able to retain some independence ; Lithuanian remained the official language and was present in schools , universities and on television .

    Independence since 1990

    With glasnost and perestroika under Mikhail Gorbachev , the mood also changed in Lithuania. The independence movement " Sąjūdis " was founded in 1988 .

    In February 1990, free elections took place for the first time, which the Sajudis could clearly win. On March 11, the newly elected Supreme Soviet declared Lithuania to be the first Union republic of the USSR to be independent and put the pre-war constitution back into force. This heralded the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union ( singing revolution ). Gorbachev recognized the explosive power of the decision (e.g. for the federal state he was aiming for). He furiously called for the "illegal acts" to be withdrawn, which Vytautas Landsbergis , who played a central role in the non-violent liberation struggle as chairman of the Sajudis and chairman of parliament, refused. The Kremlin then imposed an economic blockade that brought Lithuania to the brink of collapse - also because aid from the West was not available. Gorbachev gave the Lithuanians an ultimatum.

    On January 13, 1991 ( Bloody Sunday in Vilnius ), forces loyal to Moscow attempted a coup with the support of the Soviet military . A total of 14 unarmed civilians defending the parliament and the TV tower in Vilnius died and over 1,000 were injured. The coup failed. In response to the bloody events, the referendum was held on February 9, 1991. With a turnout of 85%, 90.5% of voters voted for an independent Lithuania. The Icelandic parliament was the first in the world to decide to recognize Lithuania as an independent republic.

    Gorbachev declared the referendum invalid, and the television building remained occupied for the time being. Seven border guards were killed in an attack by OMON troops on a Lithuanian border post.

    After the failed August coup in Moscow in 1991 on the part of hardliners, Lithuania's independence was recognized by over 90 states within a very short time. On September 6, three days after the United States, the Soviet Union recognized the sovereignty of the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

    After the initial economic crisis and political instability, the reform policy increasingly gained momentum, especially after overcoming the “ Russian crisis ” of 1998. In the following year, Lithuania and Latvia were included in the ranks of the EU accession candidates in the “replacement procedure”.

    In 2003, an affair about the Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas caused a stir, in which he was accused of involvement with organized crime . On February 19, 2004, the Lithuanian Parliament finally voted 62 to 11 to initiate impeachment proceedings . On April 6, 2004, President Paksas was ousted.

    On June 13, 2004, the new President and, for the first time, the delegates to the European Parliament were elected at the same time. Former President Valdas Adamkus ran again and won with 51.89% of the vote against former Prime Minister Kasimira Danutė Prunskienė (46.66%). The turnout was low at 52.46%.

    On March 29, 2004 Lithuania became a member of NATO . It joined the EU on May 1st. Lithuania has been part of the Schengen area since December 21, 2007 . Accession to the Eurozone , planned for January 1, 2007 , was initially postponed indefinitely due to excessive inflation and did not take place until January 1, 2015.

    On April 4, 2015, the OECD Council of Ministers decided on the invitation to join the OECD network based on the 2016 OECD Economic Report on Lithuania, in which the economic development of the last 25 years was assessed as successful. Lithuania joined in 2018. The Accession Agreement was signed on May 30, 2018 and ratified a few days later.

    Historical maps

    Historical maps of the Baltic States from the atlas To Freeman's Historical Geography, Edited by JB Bury, Longmans Green and Co. Third Edition 1903 are freely available from the University of Texas (Austin) for educational purposes: (0.3 to 0 per file, 4 MB)


    • Sonja Birli:  Lithuania, Lithuanian. In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde (RGA). 2nd Edition. Volume 18, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2001, ISBN 3-11-016950-9 , pp. 512-516.
    • Christoph Dieckmann : German occupation policy in Lithuania 1941-1944 . In 2 volumes, Wallstein, Göttingen 2011, ISBN 978-3-8353-0929-6 , at the same time a considerably revised version of the Freiburg (Breisgau) 2003 university dissertation.
    • Mathias Niendorf: The Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Studies on nation building in the early modern period (1569–1795) . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3-447-05369-0 (review) . (Publications of the Northeast Institute 3)
    • Katja Makhotina: Memories of the War - War of Memories. Lithuania and World War II . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Kornwestheim 2016, ISBN 978-3-525-30090-9 .
    • Nijolė Maslauskienė, Inga Petravičiūtė: Okupantai ir kolaborantai - Pirmoji sovietinė okupacija ( Occupants and collaborators - the first Soviet occupation). Margi raštai publishing house, Vilnius 2007, ISBN 978-9986-09-324-4 , (Lithuanian, English).
    • Duisburg, Kultur- und Stadthistorisches Museum (Hrsg.): Archaeological treasures from Lithuania . Accompanying volume for the exhibition of the same name in 1992.
    • Wolfram Wette : Holocaust in Lithuania. War, murder of Jews, and collaboration in 1941 . Together with Vincas Bartisevisium and Joachim Tauber. With a foreword by Ralph Giordano . Böhlau Verlag, Cologne 2003, ISBN 3-412-13902-5 .
    • Wolfram bet : Karl Jäger. Murderer of the Lithuanian Jews . Foreword by Ralph Giordano . Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2011, ISBN 978-3-596-19064-5 . (= The time of National Socialism. A series of books. Ed. By Walter Pehle)

    See also

    Web links

    Commons : History of Lithuania  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

    Individual evidence

    1. Twenty years of restoring Lithuania's independence , Andreas Michael Klein, Rita Lapinienė, Konrad Adenauer Foundation 2010
    2. ^ The Russian minorities in the Baltic States , Scientific Services of the German Bundestag, WD 2-3000-010/17, 2017
    3. Lawrence Guy Straus et al. a. (Ed.): Humans at the End of the Ice Age: The Archeology of the Pleistocene — Holocene Transition. Springer Science 2012, p. 162.
    4. ^ Karl Engel: The culture of the Memelland in prehistoric times. Memel 1931, p. 16. Partial excerpt online
    5. Martina Giese (Ed.): Scriptores rerum Germanicarum in usum scholarum separatim editi 72: The Annales Quedlinburgenses. Hannover 2004, p. 527 ( Monumenta Germaniae Historica , digitized version )
    6. Ralph Tuchtenhagen: History of the Baltic States, C. H. Beck, Munich 2005, p. 52.
    7. www.verfassungen.de: Appendix I. of the Convention on the Memel Region - Statute of the Memel Region (full text)
    8. ^ Mass arrests in Lithuania , Vossische Zeitung , April 3, 1929, p. 2.
    9. 1940 metų SSRS veiksmų prieš Lietuvos Respubliką teisinė kvalifikacija: agresija, okupacija ar aneksija? (Prof. Dainius Žalimas , Vilnius University )
    10. Boris Meissner : The Soviet Union, the Baltic States and international law . Verlag für Politik und Wirtschaft, Cologne 1956, p. 66.
    11. ^ Wolfram Wette: Karl Jäger: Murderer of the Lithuanian Jews. Frankfurt a. M. 2011, chap. 9.
    12. Christoph Dieckmann, Saulius Sužiedėlis: Lietuvos žydų persekiojimas ir masinės žudynės 1941 m. vasarą ir rudenį. Šaltiniai ir analizė / The persecution and mass murder of lithuanian jews during summer and fall of 1941. Sources and analysis (= Totalitarinių režimų nusikaltimai lietuvoje. Nacių okupacija, vol. 3). Margi Raštai, Vilnius 2006, ISBN 9986-09-280-9 (Lithuanian, partly English-Lithuanian parallel text), pp. 30–31.
    13. Christoph Dieckmann, Saulius Sužiedėlis: Lietuvos žydų persekiojimas ir masinės žudynės 1941 m. vasarą ir rudenį. Šaltiniai ir analizė . Margi Raštai, Vilnius 2006, p. 50.
    14. Timm C. Richter (Ed.): War and crime. Situation and intention: case studies , Munich 2006, ISBN 3-89975-080-2 , p. 53 ff.
    15. Hannes Gamillscheg: Illusion in the morning, fact in the evening - 20 years ago Lithuania's independence accelerated the end of the Soviet empire. In: Frankfurter Rundschau March 11, 2010, p. 8.
    16. OECD Economic Report 2016 on Lithuania presented ( Memento of the original from March 30, 2017 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.ahk-balt.org
    17. Kaip įstoti Lietuvai ( Verslo žinios )
    18. ^ Lithuania ratifies membership of the OECD . In: The German-Baltic Chamber of Commerce in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania . ( ahk-balt.org [accessed November 21, 2018]).