On February 16, Lithuania, a small Baltic sea republic, celebrated its independence day. While I do have Lithuanian heritage on my mother’s side, I was primarily reminded of the holiday by a link I received to a video by a Lithuanian tv personality teasing our new president and suggesting that if he’s putting America first, then perhaps Lithuania could be third. The video is fun, particularly if you have Lithuanian descent, and also has some gorgeous footage of the country, especially its castles. But I don’t intend for this to be a political post. Rather, if you chose to watch, I would call your attention to the brief history lesson part way through the video.
During my period of study, the high and later Middle Ages, Lithuania was a power in Europe, and Lithuanians still regard the era from the 13th to 16th centuries as their Golden Age. While researching for an epic fantasy set during the Mongol invasions of China, I took the opportunity to do some more reading on Lithuania as well–one of my principal characters is a Lithuanian bellmaker kidnapped by a Mongol scout during an expedition to the fringes of Europe, and pressed into service. I’ve enjoyed incorporating a variety of cultures and clashes into that book, but I digress.
The term “Lithuania” first appears in a monk’s chronicle in 1009. Medieval Lithuania was notoriously pagan when most of Europe had become Christian. While one of the earlier Grand Dukes professed Christianity and received his crown from the Pope, it wasn’t until 1387 that the Grand Duchy officially became Catholic. The ruling family also held the crown of Poland, expanding the borders by a large margin.
In spite of the nation’s conversion, the neighboring Teutonic Knights continue to press territorial claims until they were finally defeated in 1410. After that, Grand Duke Vytautas (who is lauded in the video), completed the drive south, allowing Lithuania to become the largest state in Europe at the time stretching from the Baltic to the Black Seas. This site has a nice map showing Lithuania’s expansion during the 14th and 15th centuries.
Lithuania in the 15th century was justly famous for its warlike outlook, and I was a bit tempted to draw it into my Dark Apostle series. What would the pagan ruler of this spreading nation think about the necromancers and magic in general? Unfortunately, there is scant scholarship available in English into the early religion of Lithuania (aside from many Medieval sources referring to the Grand Duchy as notoriously pagan).
I did find another site devoted entirely to Medieval Lithuania, which refers to a sort of warrior cult followed by the leadership and knights, and spreading to the common people as well, which could explain the heroic ethos referenced in resources about Lithuanian mythology. Clearly, I’ll need to make a trip to the old country to learn more! If you’re curious, check out the top 10 sights of Medieval Lithuania.