Post-classical history

Gediminas (d. 1341/1342)

Grand duke of Lithuania (c. 1316-1341/1342), who made this pagan state into a powerful opponent of the Teutonic Order during the Baltic Crusades.

Gediminas (Ger. Gedimin, Pol. Giedymin, Russ. Ģedimin) was probably born in the 1270s. His father was Puku- veras, a Lithuanian noble; his mother is unknown. Gedim- inas seems to have inherited power in Lithuania from his brother, Grand Duke Vytenis (c. 1295-1315). His descendants, the Gediminids (Lith. Gediminaičiai), ruled Lithuania until 1572.

Gediminas fought the crusaders led by the Teutonic Order and also attacked German territory in alliance with King Kaz- imierz III of Poland, who married Gediminas’s daughter Aldona-Anna in 1325. Lithuanian and Polish forces ravaged the margraviate of Brandenburg in 1326, reaching Frankfurt an der Oder and taking many prisoners. Continuing a close alliance with Riga that had been established by Vytenis, Ged- iminas helped this city to resist the Teutonic Order until 1330. He fostered Lithuanian trade with Riga, the Hanseatic League, Russia, Ukraine, and points east, inviting foreign merchants to Lithuania and allowing even the merchants from towns of the Teutonic Order safe passage through his realm. This policy probably provided an economic base for resisting the crusaders and certainly allowed Lithuanians to buy and have made the latest military technology, so that the Christian technological advantage was slowly lost on the Baltic front.

Gediminas also attacked the Teutonic Order through diplomacy and propaganda. He sent letters written by Christian friars at his court to Pope Innocent IV, to the Hanseatic cities of northern Germany, and to German Franciscans and Dominicans, proclaiming his willingness to accept Christianity and accusing the Teutonic Knights of hindering Lithuania’s conversion through their attacks. This diplomatic maneuver enabled Gediminas to conclude a peace for two years with the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order, and the pope sent important legates to confirm the treaty and offer baptism to the Lithuanian ruler. When they arrived, Gediminas renewed his complaints against the Teutonic Knights, but refused baptism. Lithuania remained pagan, but Gediminas had obtained a much needed peace.

Although Gediminas built several Christian churches for foreigners in Lithuania, had Franciscans and Dominicans at his court as scribes and advisors, and generally seems to have tolerated Christian worship, he would not allow attacks on his pagan gods. He executed two newly arrived Franciscans who had been seized in Vilnius by a mob angered at their preaching against the ancient Lithuanian religion.

Through conquest and marriage alliances, Gediminas expanded his power into present-day Russia and Ukraine. He obtained from the patriarch of Constantinople the appointment of a Greek Orthodox primate, a “Metropolitan of Lithuania” for territories under Lithuanian rule.

Gediminas had at least seven sons (Manvydas, Algirdas, Kçstutis, Karijotas-Mikhail, Liubartas-Dmitri, Narimantas, and Jaunutis) and five daughters (Aldona-Anna, Aigusta- Anastasia, Maria, Elizabeth, and Eufemia). His wife’s name is unknown. His sons ruled Slavic and Lithuanian principalities, while his daughters married Christian princes, accepted baptism, and formed valuable alliances for Lithuania. He was succeeded by his son Jaunutis (1341-1345).

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