History of Lithuania

Travel Guide Europe Lithuania History of Lithuania


Brief History

Ancient Times

The ancient history of Lithuania is not much different from other countries in the Baltic region. After the last Ice age settlements of several tribes began to emerge.

The Middle Ages

in the 1230s the Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, who was crowned as King of Lithuania on 6 July 1253. After his assassination in 1263, Lithuania which was not yet Christianized was a target of Christian crusades of the Teutonic Knights and Livonian Order. Despite these invasions, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, could grow to become the biggest country in Europe by the end of the 14th Century. It included present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia.

In 1385, the Grand Duke Jogaila accepted the offer to become king of Poland. He converted Lithuania into Christianity and established a personal union between Poland and Lithuania. After two civil wars Vytautas the Great became the Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1392. Thanks to close cooperation, the armies of Poland and Lithuania achieved a great victory over the Teutonic Knights in 1410 at the Battle of Grunwald, one of the largest battles of medieval Europe. After the deaths of Jogaila and Vytautas, Lithuanian nobility attempted to break the union between Poland and Lithuania. the growing power of the Grand Duchy of Moscow threatened Lithuania's Russian principalities and sparked the Muscovite–Lithuanian Wars and the Livonian War. At the end of the 16th Century the commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania was created. As a member of the commonwealth Lithuania kept her own army, currency and laws. However the way of life in Lithuania came under pressure because of the dominant role Poland played in the commonwealth.

17th and 18th Century

During the Northern Wars (1655–1661), the Lithuanian territory and economy and was devastated by the Swedish army. Before it could fully recover, Lithuania was again ravaged during the Great Northern War (1700–1721). The war, plague, and famine resulted in loss of approximately 40% of the country's inhabitants. Russia became the most dominant player in domestic politics. Due to the system nobility in Lithuania prevented any reforms. For the powerful Russian Empire, Habsburg Austria and Prussia the Polish-Lituanian Commonwealth was too powerful. They signed secret documents in order to divide parts of Poland and Lithuania. In 1772, 1792 and 1795 Russia, Prussia, and Habsburg Austria. Invaded the commonwealth and annexed huge parts of it. The majority of the Lithuanian territory became part of Russia.

20th Century

As was the case in the Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania declared its independence during World War I. This happened on 16 February 1918. Lithuania's foreign policy was dominated by territorial disputes with Poland and Germany. Vilnius Region, including Vilnius, the designated capital in the Constitution of Lithuania, was taken over by Polish forces during the Żeligowski's Mutiny in October 1920 and remained under Polish control until the start of World War II. Acquired during the Klaipėda Revolt of 1923, the Klaipėda Region was ceded back to Germany after a German ultimatum in March 1939. The domestic affairs were controlled by authoritarian Antanas Smetona and his Lithuanian National Union, who came to power after the coup in 1926.

The fate of Latvia and the other Baltic states was sealed by the German Soviet Nonaggression Pact, signed between Hitler and Stalin. In june 1940 the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania, but during the war, Germany took back control over Lithuania. In the last year of the war the Red Army took control of the country again.

During the war it is estimated that around 780.000 citizens of Lithuania, including 190,000 jews died. In the years after the war more than 200,000 people are estimated to have been deported from the Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by the Soviet Union. The Baltic States were included into the Soviet Union. From 1944 to 1952 approximately 100,000 Lithuanian partisans fought a guerrilla war against the Soviet system. An estimated 30,000 partisans and their supporters were killed.


In the late 1980, when perestroika and glasnost were the key words, nationalists saw their chance to regain independence. After a landslide victory of the Sąjūdis, led by Vytautas Landsbergis, independence was declared on March 11, 1990, becoming the first Soviet republic to do so. The Soviet Union imposed economic blockade attempting to suppress this secession. The Soviet troops attacked the Vilnius TV Tower and killed 13 Lithuanian civilians on the night of 13 January 1991. The final push was given by the coup attempt in Moscow in August 1991. The last Russian troops left on 31 August 1993.

In 2004 Lithuania together with nine other countries including the other two Baltic states became part of the European Union. Lithuania also became part of the NATO in that same year.


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This is version 1. Last edited at 21:33 on Jan 23, 10 by Herr Bert. 1 article links to this page.

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