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Christianization of Lithuania

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The fresco in the Vilnius Cathedral, dating to the Christianization of Lithuania
The fresco in the Vilnius Cathedral, dating to the Christianization of Lithuania

The Christianization of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos krikštas) occurred in 1387, initiated by King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Władysław II Jagiełło and his cousin Vytautas the Great. It signified the official adoption of Christianity by Lithuanians, the last pagan nation in Europe. This event ended one of the most complicated and lengthiest processes of Christianization in European history.

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  • ✪ Russia, the Kievan Rus, and the Mongols: Crash Course World History #20
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Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course: World History and today we’re going to talk about Russia, which means we get to talk about this guy again! We haven’t talked about Russia much so far because 1. It’s complicated, and 2. Ya actually gavarou pa russki a little bit, because I had some Russian in college and that makes it difficult to mispronounce things, which is my thing! Mr. Green, Mr. Green! Why’d you take Russian? Well, because I had this big crush on a Russian major. But, anyway, I’m sure I’ll still mispronounce everything. [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] So, today we’re going to talk about persistent stereotypes about Russia, and how Russia came to take its current shape, a turn of events we owe largely to the Mongols. [Savage, brassy swarm of Mongol-tage doom calls…] But before we discuss the Mongol conquest of Russia, let’s discuss exactly what got conquered. So before there was a Russian empire, or even a Russian kingdom, there was the Kievan Rus. We know Kiev was a powerful city-state, but who exactly founded it is a subject of debate. Most historians now believe that the settlers of Kiev were Slavic people who migrated from around the Black Sea. But there’s an older theory that the settlers of Kiev were actually, like, Vikings. That theory goes that Vikings came down to Kiev from rivers like the Dnieper and founded a trading outpost similar to ones they’d founded in Iceland and Greenland. Which is an awesome idea and everything, but Russian, the language that developed from what the Rus spoke, sounds a lot more Slavic than it sounds, you know, Swedish. To illustrate, here is a Swede fighting with a Russian over who founded Kiev. [Russian: Kiev was founded by the slavic ancestors of the Rus.] [Swede: No. Clearly Kiev was founded by Swedes.] Right, okay, so trade was hugely important to Kiev. Almost all of their wars ended with trade concession treaties, and their law codes were unusually devoted to the subject of commerce. The Rus traded raw materials like fur, wax, and also slaves— We’re not gonna venture into the astonishingly intense etymological debate over whether the word slav derives from the Latin word for slave because there's nothing more terrifying and verbose than an etymologist flame war. But, yeah, the Rus traded slaves. They also relied on agriculture— and your relationships to the land determined both your social status and your tax burden. And if you fell into tax debt, which a lot of peasants did, then you became bonded to the land you farmed for the rest of your life, I guess that slave-like dynamic is okay as a model for social organization, but if you step on the proletariat for too long, you might end up with a Communist revolution. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Couple more things about Kiev: First, the ruler of Kiev was called the Grand Prince, and he became the model for future Russian Kings. Also, the early grand princes made a fateful decision: They became Byzantine Christians. According to legend, prince Vladimir chose to convert the Rus to Byzantine Christianity in the 11th century. He purportedly chose Christianity over Islam because of Islam’s prohibition on alcohol saying: “Drink is the joy of the Russian.” Anyway, the Kievan Rus eventually fell in 1240 when these guys [Mongol-tage horns horn it up] showed up and replaced them. By that time the Rus had been at war with pastoral nomads for centuries; from the Khazars to the Pechengs to the Cumans, and they were tired. Which made them easy targets. The period of Mongol “rule” over Russia is also known as Appanage Russia. An Appanage is princedom, and this period basically featured a bunch of Russian princes vying for control over territory, which is not a recipe for political stability or economic growth, another theme that will re-emerge in Russian history. By the way, I’m describing all of this as Russia even though if you did that in the 13th century, people would look at you funny. They’d be like, “What do you mean, Russia? Also, where’d you get those pants? And all those teeth?” “MMMM...YOU SMELL PRETTY.” Right. So, to discuss how important the Mongols were to Russia, let’s go to the Thought Bubble. The Mongols did set up the Khanate o f the Golden Horde in Russia, but it didn’t leave much lasting impact on the institutions of the region, which had already been set up by the Kievans. But they did bring about a population shift— away from the South, where Kiev was, toward the Northeast. This was partly to get away from the Mongols and their massacring, but that noted, the Mongols were comparatively light rulers: They were happy to live in their yurts and collect tribute from the ever-bickering Russian princes. And all the princes had to do in exchange for their relative freedom was recognize the Mongol khans as their rulers and allow the Mongols to pick the Grand Prince from among the Russians. Perhaps most importantly, Mongol rule cut the Russians off from the Byzantines and further isolated them from Europe, leaving Russia not Byzantine, not European, and not really Mongol either, since they hated the Mongols and generally believed the Mongols were a scourge sent from God to punish them for their sinfulness and everything. But the Mongols did help propel Moscow to prominence and in doing so, created the idea that this was Russia. And as an aside, they also did what Napoleon, Hitler, and many others couldn’t: The Mongols successfully conquered Russia in the winter. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So how did the Mongols help catapult Moscow and its princes to prominence? Well, first, they named Muscovite princes The Grand Prince on more than one occasion. More importantly, the Muscovite princes won— that is to say purchased— the right to collect tribute on behalf of the Khan from other princes. That’s a good gig because it’s easy to skim a little bit off the top before you send it down the line to [Mongol-taging a bit more for good measure] the Mongols. Which is precisely what the Muscovites did to enrich themselves— in fact, one prince who was particularly good at this was known as Ivan Kalita. Using my Russian, I can tell you that that translates to “Johnny Moneybags.” As my Russian professor would tell you, I’m a “creative” translator. All this extra loot helped Moscow expand their influence and buy principalities. The Mongols also helped them more directly by attacking their enemies. Plus Moscow was at the headwaters of four rivers which made it well-positioned for trade. And because they were kind of the allies of the Mongols- the Mongols rarely attacked them- which meant that lots of people went to Moscow because it was relatively safe. Including “churchy” people. In fact, Moscow also became the seat of the Eastern Orthodox church in 1325, when the Metropolitan Peter moved there. So you might think that the Muscovites would be grateful for all this help from the Mongols, but you would be wrong. As the Mongols’ position weakened in Russia in the latter half of the 14th century, one of Moscow’s princes Dmitrii Donskoi made war on them and inflicted the first major defeat of Mongols in Russia at battle of Kulikovo Field. This showed that the Mongols weren’t invincible, which is always really bad for an imperial force. Plus it made Moscow look like the hero of the Russians. And that helped strengthen the idea of a unified Russia, just as you’ll remember the Persians helped unify the Greeks a long time ago. Aiding this growth was stability, which Moscow owed largely to luck: Muscovite princes usually had sons which allowed them to have successors. In fact, there was only one major succession struggle and it was between two blind guys named Basil. That’s not a joke by the way. Oh, it’s time for the Open Letter? [Swoodilyscoots by globey to get his fireside chat on] An Open Letter to Basil and Basil: But first, let’s see in the Secret Compartment. Oh, it’s Grizzlor! Yeah, I guess that is kind of how the Russians saw the Mongols. Dear Basils, The 15th century Muscovite civil war was insanely complicated, but it culminated with you guys essentially blinding each other. First, Basil II, the eventual winner of the civil war, had Basil the cross-eyed blinded. Because being cross-eyed wan’t bad enough. And that was seen as the end of the political career of Basil the Cross-Eyed. But then Basil the Cross-Eyed’s brother tracked down Basil II and he was like “I’ma blind you back!” And of course, everybody thought that would end Basil II’s political career, but they were wrong. It turns out you can rule Russia like a Boss even if you’re blind. Best Wishes, Johnny Bookwriter After Basil the Blind came the real man who expanded Moscow’s power, Ivan III, later known as Ivan the Great. First, he asserted Russian independence from the Mongols and stopped paying tribute to the khan-- after the khan had named him Grand Prince, of course. Then, Ivan purchased, negotiated for or conquered multiple appanages, thus expanding Muscovite power even more. Ivan later declared himself sovereign of all Russians and then married the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, thus giving him even more legitimacy. And he took titles autocrat and tsar, which means Caesar. Basically, Ivan created the first centralized Russian state and for doing that he probably deserves title “the Great.” And that would be a good place to stop, except then we won’t see the type of absolute rule that characterized Russia for most of the rest of its history, even unto Putin. OH GOD. JUST KIDDING PUTIN! YOU’D NEVER RIG AN ELECTION.. N-NO...PLEASE DON’T PUT ME IN JAIL! While Ivan III consolidated Muscovite power, the undeniable brutal streak in Russian governance comes not from the Mogols, but from Ivan IV. Better known as Ivan the Terrible. Ivan IV ruled from 1533 to 1584, taking the throne at age 16, yet more evidence that adolescents should not be trusted with emerging empires. Ivan the Terrible’s reign represents the end of princely power and the beginning of the autocracy that Russia is famous for. But in the beginning, he was really an innovative leader. As a young king, he worked with a group of advisers called the Chosen Council, which certainly sounds like a good thing. He also called the very first meeting of the zemskii sobor, a grand council of representatives similar to the estates general that would become so important in France two hundred years later. And also reformed the army, emphasizing the new technology of muskets. But in the second part of his reign, Ivan earned his nickname, the Terrible— which can mean either bad or just awe-inspiring, depending on your perspective. Psychological historians will point out that things started go terribly wrong with Ivan after the death of his beloved wife, Anastasia Romanov. Or they might point to the fact that he enjoyed torturing animals when he was a kid. Regardless, Ivan set out to break the power of the nobility-- the former princes and landowners called the boyars. They were the last link to princely rule. And after an odd episode that saw him briefly “abdicate,” Ivan returned to Moscow and declared he had the right to punish all traitors and evildoers. To help him in this effort, Ivan created the oprichnikii a corps of secret police who rode around on black horses, wearing all black, whose job it was to hunt down and destroy any enemies of the tsar. See also: Nazgul and Dementors. So this was the first of Russia’s purges. And over the latter half of Ivan’s reign, whole towns were destroyed. It was, in effect, a civil war, except with no resistance. One historian called it a civil massacre. In the end, Ivan IV established absolute control of the tsar over all the Russian people, but he also set the precedent of accomplishing this through terror, secret police, and the suspension of law. And that would echo through the ages of Russian history… I mean, until Vladimir Putin heroically put an end to it. His little eyes. They’re scary... So, hence the stereotype of Russian brutality and barbarism, but here’s the truth; the rest of Europe also knew a lot about brutality and secret police forces. But for centuries, Russia was seen by western Europe as both European and not, an “Other” that was to be doubly feared because it was not fully Other. And when we think of all these historical stereotypes about Russia, it’s worth remembering that what you see as barbaric about others is often what they see as barbaric about you. Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history teacher Raoul Meyer and myself. Our graphics team is ThoughtBubble, Last week’s Phrase of the Week was: "Nobody's business but the Turks" If you want to suggest future phrases of the week or guess at this week’s you can do so in comments where you can also ask questions related to today's video that will be answered by our team of historians. Thanks for watching. and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget A truly wise man never plays leapfrog with a Unicorn.



Romuva sanctuary in Prussia
Romuva sanctuary in Prussia

Early contacts with Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Lithuanians' contacts with the Christian religion predated the establishment of the Duchy of Lithuania in the 13th century. The first known record of the name Lithuania (Litua), recorded in the Annals of Quedlinburg in 1009, relates to Chalcedonian missionaries led by Bruno of Querfurt, who baptised several rulers of the Yotvingians, a nearby Baltic tribe. However, Lithuanians had more active contacts with the Kievan Rus' and subsequent Eastern Slavic states, which had adopted Eastern Orthodox Christianity following the Christianization of Kievan Rus' in the 10th century.

As the dukes of Lithuania extended their dominion eastwards, the influence of the Slavic states on their culture increased. Their subordinates and the people followed their example, borrowing, for instance, many of the East Slavic versions of Christian names in the 11th - 12th centuries. This borrowing became increasingly widespread among the pagan population in Aukštaitija, though much less so in Samogitia. The influence of Orthodox Christianity on pagan Lithuanian culture is evidenced in about one-third of present-day Lithuanian surnames which are constructed from baptismal names are Old Church Slavonic in origin.[1] In addition, the Lithuanian words for "church", "baptism" and "fast" are classed as 'loanwords from Russian rather than Polish.'[2]

Baptism of Mindaugas

The emergence of a monastic state of the Livonian Order around the Lithuanian borders made it rather urgent to choose a state religion. The first Lithuanian Grand Duke to adopt Western Christianity was Mindaugas, although his nephew and rival Tautvilas had done that earlier, in 1250. The first translations of Catholic prayers from German were made during his reign and have been known since.[3]

The Pope Innocent IV bull regarding Lithuania's placement under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, Mindaugas' baptism and coronation
The Pope Innocent IV bull regarding Lithuania's placement under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, Mindaugas' baptism and coronation

In 1249, Tautvilas' ally Daniel of Halych attacked Navahradak, and in 1250, another ally of Tautvilas, the Livonian Order, organized a major raid against Nalšia land and Mindaugas' domains in Lithuania proper. Attacked from the south and north and facing the possibility of unrest elsewhere, Mindaugas was placed in an extremely difficult position, but managed to use the conflicts between the Livonian Order and the Archbishop of Riga in his own interests. In 1250 or 1251, Mindaugas agreed to receive baptism and relinquish control over some lands in western Lithuania, for which he was to receive a crown in return.

Mindaugas and his family were baptised in the Catholic rite in 1250 or 1251. On July 17, 1251 Pope Innocent IV issued a papal bull proclaiming Lithuania a Kingdom and the state was placed under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome. Mindaugas and his wife Morta were crowned at some time during the summer of 1253, and the Kingdom of Lithuania, formally a Christian state, was established. Even after becoming a Catholic, King Mindaugas did not cease sacrificing to his own gods.[4] After Mindaugas repudiated Christianity and expelled all the Christians from Lithuania in 1261, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania lost its status as a Western Christian state. Despite the ruling family's baptism, Lithuania had not become a truly Christian state, since there were no fruitful efforts to convert its population; Lithuanians and Samogitians stood firmly for their ancestral religion.

Medieval fresco from the Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune Church in Strasbourg, portraying 15 European nations' path towards Christianity. Lithuania presented as the last figure.
Medieval fresco from the Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune Church in Strasbourg, portraying 15 European nations' path towards Christianity. Lithuania presented as the last figure.

Vacillation between East and West

Mindaugas' successors did not express enough interest in following in his footsteps. There were decades of vacillation between the Latin and the Orthodox options.[5] "For Gediminas and Algirdas, retention of paganism provided a useful diplomatic tool and weapon... that allowed them to use promises of conversion as a means of preserving their power and independence".[6] Grand Duke Algirdas had pursued an option of 'dynamic balance'. Throughout his reign he teased both Avignon and Constantinople with the prospects of a conversion;[7] several unsuccessful attempts were made to negotiate the conversion of Lithuania.[8]

To avoid further clashes with the Teutonic Order, in 1349, Lithuanian co-ruler Kęstutis started the negotiations with Pope Clement VI for the conversion and had been promised royal crowns for himself and his sons. Algirdas willingly remained aside of the business and dealt with the order in the Ruthenian part of the state. The intermediary in the negotiations, Polish King Casimir III, made an unexpected assault on Volhynia and Brest in October 1349 that ruined Kęstutis' plan. During the Polish-Lithuanian war for Volhynia, King Louis I of Hungary offered a peace agreement to Kęstutis on 15 August 1351, according to which Kęstutis obliged himself to accept Christianity and provide the Kingdom of Hungary with military aid, in exchange of the royal crown. Kęstutis confirmed the agreement by performing a pagan ritual[9] to convince the other side. In fact, Kęstutis had no intentions to abide the agreement and ran away on his way to Buda.[10]

By the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania had emerged as a successor to Kievan Rus in the western part of its dominions.[11] Although its sovereign was pagan, the majority of the population was Slavic and Orthodox. To legitimize their rule in these areas, the Lithuanian royalty frequently married into the Orthodox Rurikid aristocracy of Eastern Europe. As a result, some Lithuanian rulers were baptised into Eastern Orthodoxy either as children (Švitrigaila) or adults. The first one was Vaišelga, son and heir of Mindaugas, who took monastic vows at an Orthodox monastery in Lavrashev[12] near Novgorodok and later established a convent there.[13]

Christianization by Jogaila and Vytautas

The final attempt to Christianize Lithuania was made by Jogaila. Jogaila's Russian mother urged him to marry Sofia, daughter of Prince Dmitri of Moscow, who required him first to convert to Orthodoxy and to make Lithuania a fief of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.[14] That option, however, was unrealistic and unlikely to halt the crusades against Lithuania by the Teutonic Order. Jogaila chose therefore to accept a Polish proposal to become a Catholic and marry Queen Jadwiga of Poland. On these and other terms, on 14 August 1385, at the castle of Krėva, Jogaila agreed to adopt Christianity, signing the Act of Krėva.

Władysław II Jagiełło was duly baptised at the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków on 15 February 1386 and became king of Poland. The royal baptism was followed by the conversion of most of Jogaila's court and knights,[15] as well as Jogaila's brothers Karigaila, Vygantas, Švitrigaila and cousin Vytautas. Jogaila sent Dobrogost, Bishop of Poznań, as ambassador to Pope Urban VI with a petition for the erection of an episcopal see at Vilnius and the appointment of Andrzej Jastrzębiec to fill it.

Jogaila returned to Lithuania on February 1387. The baptism of nobles and their peasants was at first carried out in the capital Vilnius and its environs. The nobility and some peasants in Aukštaitija were baptized in spring, followed by the rest of the Lithuanian nobility. The parishes were established in ethnic Lithuania and the new Vilnius Cathedral was built in 1387 in the site of a demolished pagan temple. According to the information of disputed accuracy provided by Jan Długosz, the first parochial churches were built in Lithuanian pagan towns Vilkmergė, Maišiagala, Lida, Nemenčinė, Medininkai, Kreva, Haina and Abolcy, all belonging to the Jogaila's patrimony. On 19 April 1389, Pope Urban VI recognized the status of Lithuania as a Roman Catholic state.

Samogitia was the last ethnic region of Lithuania to become Christianized in 1413, following the defeat of the Teutonic Order in the Battle of Grunwald and the Peace of Thorn and its subsequent return to the Lithuanian control. In November 1413, Vytautas himself sailed Neman River and Dubysa, reached the environs of Betygala, where he baptised the first groups of Samogitians.[16] In 1416, the construction of eight first parochial churches was started. The Diocese of Samogitia was established on 23 October 1417 and Matthias of Trakai became the first Bishop of Samogitia. The cathedral was built in Medininkai around 1464.


Ethnic Lithuanian nobles were the main converts to Catholicism, but paganism remained strong among the peasantry. Pagan customs prevailed for a long time among the common people of Lithuania and were covertly practiced. There had been no prosecution of priests and adherents of the old faith. However, by the 17th century, following the Counter-Reformation (1545-1648), the Roman Catholic faith had essentially taken precedence over earlier pagan beliefs.

The conversion and its political implications had lasting repercussions for the history of Lithuania. As the majority of the population of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania outside Lithuania proper was Orthodox and the elite gradually converted to Roman Catholicism, religious tensions increased. Some of the Orthodox Gediminids left Lithuania for Muscovy, where they gave rise to such families as the Galitzine and the Troubetzkoy. The Orthodox population of present-day Ukraine and eastern Belarus often sympathized with the rulers of Muscovy, who portrayed themselves as the champions of Orthodoxy. These feelings contributed to such reverses as the Battle of Vedrosha, which crippled the Grand Duchy and undermined its position as a dominant power in Eastern Europe.

On the other hand, the conversion to Roman Catholicism facilitated Lithuania's integration into the cultural sphere of Western Europe and paved the way to the political alliance of Lithuania and Poland, finalized as the Union of Lublin in 1569.

See also


  1. ^ (in Lithuanian) Z. Zinkevičius. Krikščionybės ištakos Lietuvoje[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ S.C. Rowell. Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Empire Within East-central Europe, 1295-1345. Cambridge University Press, 1994. Page 149.
  3. ^ For instance, the initial verse of the Trinitarian formula in Lithuanian, as well as in Latvian and Prussian, is presented as vardan Dievo Tėvo, i.e. "in the name of God the Father", in contrast to the common version "in the name of Father". It shows the influence of German Arianism, which used the denomination Got Vater, on the earliest Lithuanian liturgy. [1]
  4. ^ S. C. Rowell Page 120
  5. ^ Davies, Norman. Europe:A history. Oxford University Press. Page 430.
  6. ^ Muldoon, James. Varieties of Religious Conversion in the Middle Ages. University Press of Florida, 1997. Page 140.
  7. ^ Davies, Page 430
  8. ^ Muldon, Page 137
  9. ^ killing a bull by throwing a knife at it
  10. ^ (in Lithuanian) Kęstutis: was he a proponent or opponent of the Christianization, accessed on 01-07-2007
  11. ^ Daniel Z. Stone. The Polish-Lithuanian State, 1386-1795. University of Washington Press, 2001. ISBN 0-295-98093-1. Page 3;
    Paul Robert Magocsi. A History of Ukraine. University of Toronto Press, 1996. Page 67.
  12. ^ Following the Tracks of a Myth, Edvardas Gudavičius
  13. ^ S.C. Rowell. Page 149.
  14. ^ A. Thomas Lane. Lithuania: Stepping Westward. Routledge, 2001. Page XXI.
  15. ^ Kłoczowski, 54-57.
  16. ^ (in Lithuanian)Dualistinis lietuvių tautybės susidarymas ir trialistinis Lietuvos krikšto pobūdis Archived 2003-05-02 at the Wayback Machine Dr. Aleksandras Vitkus

External links

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