History of Lithuania

Brief history of Lithuania summarized

A short tour of the history of Lithuania, from its beginnings to the present day, passing through the Soviet Union.

Former lithuania

lithuania flagThe ancestors of modern Lithuanians were a people called the Balts (or Balts) who arrived in the area around 2000 BC In 1240 AD a man named Mindaugas united the Lithuanian tribes. He was the first King (Grand Duke) of the country, and in 1251 he converted to Christianity. Mindaugas was assassinated in 1263 and his people reverted to paganism.

In 1316, Lithuania was united again by a man named Gediminas. He chose the title of grand duke instead of king and under his rule Lithuania grew stronger. He made Vilnius the capital and encouraged settlers from other parts of Europe.

Lithuania expanded eastward, into what is now Belarus and Ukraine. However, they were faced with a growing threat, the Teutonic Knights. It was an order of German knights who fought against the pagans in the Baltic region.

In 1377, Jogaila (Władysław Jagiello) became Grand Duke of Lithuania. In 1381, he was forced to flee Vilnius by his uncle Kęstutis, who declared himself Grand Duke. However, in 1382 Jogaila seized power in Vilnius again while Kęstutis was away. He captured Kęstutis and his son Vitautas.

In 1386, Grand Duke Jogaila married Edugives of Poland. The Polish Sejm (parliament) elected him King of Poland. Jogaila accepted Christianity and most of his people converted from him. Afterwards, Jogaila moved to Poland.

He was too far from Lithuania to rule, so in 1392 he made peace with Vitautas, his old enemy. Vitautas (1350-1430) was appointed Grand Duke of Lithuania, on condition that he lend his support to Jogaila.

Meanwhile, a province of Lithuania, Samogitia, remained largely pagan. In 1398 the Teutonic Knights captured the province. In 1409, the Samogitians revolted. Both Jogaila and Vitautas supported the rebellion and fought against the Teutonic Knights.

In 1410, the Poles and Lithuanians defeated the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Tannenberg (also called Grunwald or Žalgiris). That ended the threat of the Teutonic Knights forever.

Under Vitautas the Great, Lithuania was at its peak. During his reign, Lithuania extended its territory to the east. Vytautas the Great died in 1430.


In 1447 Casimir Jagiellon, Grand Duke of Lithuania became King of Poland, uniting the two states under one ruler. In 1569, the Union of Lublin united Poland and Lithuania more closely , a Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth was formed. The two states maintained their own armies, but agreed not to make treaties with foreign countries without each other’s consent.

Both also kept their own laws, but a common currency was introduced. A joint parliament (Sejm) began to meet in Warsaw, and from 1573 Poland and Lithuania had a joint ruler chosen by all the nobles.

Gradually Poland came to dominate Lithuania. Polish became the language of upper-class Lithuanians.

Meanwhile, during the 16th century the Protestant Reformation reached Lithuania. Protestantism made slight progress in Lithuania, but in the late 16th century it was overtaken by the Catholic Counter -Reformation.

Also in the 16th century, Russia became a growing threat to Lithuania. In 1512 the Russians took the Lithuanian city of Smolensk.

The Polish-Lithuanian union was called Rzeczpospolita (from the Polish words rzecz (thing) and pospolita (public), i.e. “public thing”). In the early 17th century it waged another war with the Russians and in 1611–1612 a Polish-Lithuanian force occupied Moscow. However, in 1654 the Russians captured the eastern part of the Rzeczpospolita, including Vilnius.

In the 18th century, Poland and Lithuania declined and became a Russian satellite state. In 1773 Prussia, Austria and Russia agreed to help each other in some Polish-Lithuanian territory. Russia invaded a part of Lithuania. The Second Partition took place in 1793 and Russia took even more territory.

In 1795 the Third Partition took place. Poland and Lithuania ceased to exist as independent nations, and Lithuania came under Russian rule.

XIX Century

In 1830 the Poles revolted against Russian rule. In 1832 the rebellion spread to Lithuania. However, the Russians soon crushed the uprising. In 1863 the Poles and Lithuanians rose again, and were again crushed.

In the late 19th century, the Russians introduced repressive measures such as restrictions on Catholicism. Furthermore, only Russian could be used for teaching in secondary schools, and books had to be published using the Cyrillic alphabet, even if they were written in Lithuanian. Books and newspapers in Polish (the language of the upper class) were banned.

Many Lithuanians escaped Russian repression by emigrating to North America. However, despite the Russian measures, there was a growing interest in Lithuanian culture and history. At that time nationalism was a growing force in Europe and there was nothing the Russians could do to stop it.

Twentieth century

In 1915, the Germans occupied Lithuania. In 1917, the Lithuanians were allowed to form the Council of Lithuania (Taryba). On February 16, 1918, the Taryba declared independence from Lithuania. In 1920, the Russians recognized Lithuania as an independent country. However, on October 10, 1920, the Poles occupied Vilnius. The Poles held on to the city, causing great tension with Lithuania.

In 1926 there was an army coup in Lithuania. Later Antanas Smetona ruled as a virtual dictator.

In 1940, the Russian army occupied Lithuania. In August 1940 Lithuania was absorbed into the Soviet Union. Later, thousands of Lithuanians were executed or deported.

Germany invaded Russia in June 1941 and captured Lithuania shortly after. The Nazis ruled Lithuania for 3 years and during that time they exterminated practically all Lithuanian Jews.

In July 1944 the Russians recaptured Vilnius. By the end of 1944, they had recaptured all of Lithuania. Once again, they imposed a communist regime on Lithuania.

Between 1945 and 1952, farms in Lithuania were collectivized. At the same time, thousands of Lithuanians were executed or deported. The Russians also developed industry in Lithuania, but at the cost of great environmental damage.

Finally, in the late 1980s, the communist tyranny in Lithuania began to unravel. In 1988 a popular front called Sąjūdis (Lithuanian Reform Movement) was formed. In 1989, Lithuania gained some economic autonomy, and in December 1989 the Lithuanian Communist Party became independent from the Communist Party of the USSR.

In March 1990, Sąjūdis won the elections to the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet. That body then declared Lithuania to be an independent nation. The Russians, not agreeing with this decision, imposed an economic blockade. In January 1991, Russian soldiers shot and killed 14 unarmed protesters outside a television tower in Vilnius.

On August 19, 1991, communist hardliners in Moscow attempted a coup. The coup was defeated and on September 6, 1991 the Russians recognized Lithuania as an independent country. In September 1991 Lithuania was admitted to the United Nations.

The 1990s were a painful period of adjustment as communism was dismantled and Lithuania reverted to a market economy. The last Russian soldiers left Lithuania in 1993.

XXI century

In 2004 Lithuania joined NATO and the EU. Lithuania suffered badly in the 2009 recession and unemployment reached a very high level, although it would soon recover. Today the Lithuanian economy is constantly growing.

In 2009, Vilnius was the European Capital of Culture. Also in 2009, Dalia Grybauskaitė was elected the first female president of Lithuania. Then, in 2015, Lithuania adopted the euro. Today the population of Lithuania is 2.8 million.

Share the brief history of Lithuania summarized.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button