III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > F. Europe, 461–1500 > 7. Eastern Europe, 1300–1500 > b. Lithuania
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
b. Lithuania
Of the early history of Lithuania little is known. The numerous heathen tribes were first brought to some degree of unity by the threat of the Teutonic Knights (after 1230).  1
c. 1240–63
Mindaugas, one of the Lithuanian chieftains, to deprive the Knights of their crusading purpose, accepted Christianity and was given a crown by Pope Innocent IV. He later broke with the Teutonic Order (1260) and relapsed into paganism. He was killed by one of his competitors.  2
Vytenis reestablished a Lithuanian state.  3
Gediminas, the real founder of Lithuania. Blocked by the Germans on the Baltic, he took advantage of the weakness of the Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Russian principalities to extend his control to the east and south (acquisition of Polotsk, Minsk, and the middle Dnieper region). Vilna became the capital of the new state.  4
Algirdas, the son of Gediminas, was the ablest of the dynasty. Defeated by the Knights (1360), he too turned eastward. Siding with Tver in the dynastic conflicts of Russia, he advanced several times to the very outskirts of Moscow. During his reign the domain of Lithuania was extended as far as the Black Sea, where Algirdas defeated the Tatars (1368).  5
The bubonic plague (Black Death) swept through the Baltic region.  6
JOGAILA (Jagiello), the son of Algirdas, married Jadwiga of Poland (1386) and established the first union of Lithuania and Poland under one king. As a result, Lithuania was converted to Roman Catholicism. However, the Polish and the Lithuanian aristocratic assemblies were preserved as separate bodies, while pagan traditions proved to be much stronger among the Lithuanians than among most of their neighbors. At the same time, Lithuanian society was somewhat less male-dominated: when she married, the woman did not lose all relations with her family, and she enjoyed the protection both of her own family and of her husband's; only the husband could ask for divorce but, on the other hand, one third of his property was to serve as a guarantee of his own fidelity.  7
Jagiello was obliged to recognize his cousin, Vytautas (Witold) as grand duke of Lithuania. Vytautas hoped to reestablish the independence of the country from Poland, but his failure in a crusade against the Tatars greatly weakened him.  8
Casimir IV of Poland, having been grand duke of Lithuania before his accession, once again united the grand duchy and the Polish kingdom. (See Poland-Lithuania)  9
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.