Post-classical history

Mindaugas (d. 1263)

Mindaugas (Ger. Mindowe, Russ. Mindovg) was the first documented ruler of Lithuania (1238-1263) and its only anointed king, who accepted Roman Catholic baptism from the Teutonic Order and received a crown from the pope. He is often deemed to be the founder of the Lithuanian state, although he may have had predecessors.

Mindaugas was first mentioned in 1219 as one of the Lithuanian “senior dukes” in a treaty concluded between Lithuania and Volhynia. He appears as a ruler of Lithuania in 1238, when he sent aid to Prince Daniel of Galicia. In 1239-1248 the Lithuanians waged an intensive war against Rus’ lands, which had been weakened by Mongol attacks. In this period Mindaugas gained control over the town of Novogrudok (mod. Navahrudak, Belarus) and gave it to his son Vaiselga. Simultaneously Mindaugas fought against the Teutonic Order. In 1245, seeking to stop Livonian expansion to Curonia, Mindaugas attacked the castle of Amboten, which had been occupied by the Teutonic Order, but failed to capture it.

In 1248 Mindaugas sent his nephews Tautvilas and Gedivydas and their uncle Vykintas to attack Rus’. After they suffered defeat at Zubtsov, Mindaugas decided to expel the defeated dukes from Lithuania. Tautvilas and Gedivydas fled to their father-in-law Daniel, prince of Galicia, who attacked the land of Novogrudok, while Vykintas created a coalition against Mindaugas, including the Jatvingians, some of the Samogitians, and the Teutonic Order.

In 1250 troops of the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order attacked the domains of Mindaugas. Tautvilas joined them and was baptized in Riga. However, Mindaugas managed to bribe the master of Livonia, Andreas von Stierland, and offered to accept baptism in return for military aid against Tautvilas. In 1251 the master had Mindaugas baptized and expelled Tautvilas from Riga. Tautvilas attacked Mindaugas, who with the help of the Teutonic Knights withstood the attack, and Tautvilas had to flee to Volhynia. After Mindaugas concluded peace with Daniel of Galicia (1254), Tautvilas also made peace and later ruled Polotsk as a subordinate of Mindaugas.

Mindaugas sent his own envoys to Pope Innocent IV, who on 17 July 1251 recognized Lithuania as a Christian state and authorized the bishop of Kulm (mod. Cheltmno, Poland) to crown Mindaugas as king of Lithuania, which was done in the summer of 1253. Yet Mindaugas had to make concessions to the Teutonic Knights in exchange for their diplomatic and military support, granting them parts of Samogi- tia and Jatvingia.

The baptism of Mindaugas meant that a Latin Church had to be organized in Lithuania, although its development was complicated. In August 1253, Christian, a priest of the Teutonic Order, was consecrated as the new bishop of Lithuania by Albert Suerbeer, archbishop of Riga; Christian was thus subordinated to the archdiocese of Riga, against the orders of the pope. With the help of the Teutonic Order, Min- daugas obtained papal bulls that placed the Lithuanian diocese directly under the pope. Christian remained under the influence of the Teutonic Order, and Mindaugas granted him lands in Samogitia. However, due to Samogitian resistance, neither Christian nor the order managed to gain any substantial position there. In 1259 Christian fled to Germany, where he died in 1271.

In January 1256 the Samogitians, led by Duke Alminas, successfully attacked the Teutonic Order in Curonia. Almi- nas sought to engage Mindaugas in the fight against the order, but Mindaugas preferred peace. After the Mongols devastated Mindaugas’s domains in early 1259, Mindaugas granted the Teutonic Order the whole of Samogitia (7 August). About the same time the Samogitians attacked Curonia and defeated the Livonian troops at the battle of Skuodas. Inspired by Samogitian success, the Semgallians started a rebellion against the Teutonic Order (1259-1272).

On 13 July 1260, in Curonia, the Samogitians crushed the united army of Livonia and Prussia at the battle of Durben. The order suffered its most overwhelming defeat of the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries. This inflamed rebellions throughout the whole eastern Baltic region, including the great rebellion of the native Prussians in 1260-1274. In the autumn of 1261, Mindaugas, persuaded by his nephew Tre- niota and the Samogitians, reclaimed Samogitia, apostatized from Christianity, and launched attacks against the Teutonic Order. The campaign was unsuccessful, and Mindaugas blamed Treniota. In autumn of 1263, Duke Daumantas of Nalsia, whose wife had been kidnapped by Mindaugas, allied with Treniota and killed the Lithuanian king and two of his sons, Ruklys and Repeikis. Treniota then proclaimed himself ruler of Lithuania.

Mindaugas was married at least twice: to Martha (in 1262) and to her sister, former wife of Daumantas. Some researchers assume that Martha was his second wife. We know of four sons of Mindaugas: Vaiselga, Ruklys, Repeikis, and Girstutis. Vaiselga, duke of Novogrodok and an Orthodox monk, seized power after Treniota was murdered in 1264 and after three years abdicated in favor of his brother- in-law Prince Shvarno of Volhynia. The attempts of Vaiselga and Shvarno to seize power in Lithuania provoked long-lasting wars, which were resolved only after Shvarno was expelled by Traidenis, who became ruler of Lithuania in 1269-1281.

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