The town, located in the center of the other Baltic countries, lived in peace until the XII century when the Knights of the Teutonic orders of the “Porta Croce” and “Porta Spada” did not think of spreading Christianity among its population. See Countryaah for population and country facts about Lithuania.
The population is about 3.4 million. The population density is 57 residents per km². About 83% of the population are Lithuanians. The official language Lithuanian is related to Latvian. In the first few years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the proportion of Lithuanians increased as many of them returned from other parts of the former Soviet Union and from abroad. About 6.3% of the population are Russians and 6.7% are Poles. Other minorities are Ukrainians and Belarusians. The language of instruction in the entire education system is Lithuanian, which makes access to higher education difficult for minorities. Around 72% of the population live in urban settlements, with the capital Vilnius (Vilnius)is the largest city with almost 600,000 residents. It then follows Kaunas with 415,000 residents. Founded in the 12th century because of its favorable location at the confluence of the Nemunas (Memel) and Neris rivers, it is 100 km from Vilnius and 250 km from Klaipeda (Memel).
The Lithuanians were unable, at first, to offer any resistance to their preponderance. But at some point, it is not known when, the leaders of the different Lithuanian tribes joined together to make a united defense front.
In 1219, the signatures of 5 princes already appear in the peace treaty with Volinia. But between 1226 and 1236 this union was certainly completed. And then the Teutonic knights of “Porta Spada” were confronted in the battle of Siauliai, and defeated: the Grand Master of the order also died on the field.
The recognized head of the state of Lithuania was Mindove who, after taming a revolt of princes, and to ensure that other knights did not take other pretexts to attack him, converted to Christianity, was baptized, then sent his homages as a Christian prince to Pope Innocent IV. The latter immediately ordered the bishop of Culmia to crown him King of the Lithuanians and this happened in 1253.
Mindove, after ruinous warfare, was assassinated in 1263 by Prince Trainsotas who immediately restored the traditional pagan religion.
Trainsotas reigned for a very short time; he was ousted by Mindove’s son, Vaisvilkas, who remained on the throne for three years, staining himself with abuse and cruelty, of which he later repented and retired to a convent to atone for his sins. But he left the power in the hands of his brother-in-law who, however, a year later died and the kingdom went to the Prince of Kernava, Traidenis, who worked very hard to strengthen national unity.
In 1293 Vytenis came to power, which was immediately overwhelmed by the wars resumed by the order of the Teutonic knights, who performed so many and such iniquities as to arouse protests even by the bishop of Riga. These turned to the pope accusing the knights of wanting to exterminate the Lithuanians instead of evangelizing them. The pope interdicted the Knights in 1309, but they continued in their devastating work.
Vytenis was succeeded by his brother Gedimino. He ruled for 25 years and, despite ongoing wars, was able to improve the conditions of the country considerably. He founded Vilna, which became capital; tidied up the army and state administration. He called skilled craftsmen from Germany; he increased trade by facilitating communications and allied himself with the king of Poland, Vladislao I, to whose son Casimiro married his daughter Aldona. Then he began relations with the papacy for the spread of Christianity. But despite this he still had to suffer attacks from the Teutonic knights. But he managed to keep them away from the Lithuanian borders.
Then he extended his dominion in the east, also over the principalities of Brest-Litovski, Kobrin and Volinia. Under the leadership of his sons, his successors, Lithuania made other conquests and with its borders added the shores of the Black Sea.
Towards the end of the fourteenth century, Jagellone reigning, two important events occurred for Lithuania: the first was the complete Christianization of the country and the second was the union with Poland.
In 1386, he married Hedwig, daughter and heir of the King of Poland. He ascended the throne with the name of Ladislao, after being baptized together with most of the nobles. On January 20, 1387, some 30,000 Lithuanians received a mass baptism in Vilna.
Since, however, completely taken by new interests, Ladislao neglected those of the Lithuanians, most of the tasks of the country went to his cousin Vitoldo, who carried out an intense activity for many years. And when Vitoldo, called the Great, died, Lithuania’s decline began. However, this very strong military and administrative side remained united with Poland.
Nor could his successors succeed in the division. The Jagellonid dynasty ruled Lithuania and Poland for a century and a half and when the last king Sigismund Augustus died, in 1572, without children, worries began because at that time Lithuania was at war with the Russian Tsar Ivan IV, for the possession of Livonia. Most of this province passed to Lithuania, which however had to surrender the fortress of Polock to the Russians.
The Congress of Lublin was convened where Lithuania was forced to remain united with Poland and that unique state was created which was called “Respublica” with one chief, king of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania.
The results of this union were disastrous. In the seventeenth century Lithuania allied itself with Sweden, always with the intention of being able to separate itself from Poland. But he also had to follow Sweden in his unfortunate wars against Tsar Peter the Great, who imposed his sovereignty over both Lithuania and Poland until the first partition of Poland in 1772 came which also decreed that of the two monarchies. A second partition followed in 1793 and then a third, final one in 1795. Russia had all of Lithuania minus the territory west of Niemen, which passed to Prussia. Russia then divided Lithuania into two governorates: that of Vilna and that of Sonim.
In 1812, during the Napoleonic wars, Lithuania tried to organize itself to shake off Russian domination, but Napoleon’s inauspicious defeat in Russia wrecked all his hopes. It came back under the rule of Russia which, after having tamed a guerrilla war that began in 1831, ordered the closure of the University of Vilna, imposed the Russian language, abolished parochial schools and monasteries and confiscated the assets of the Church which thus enriched the the Treasury of Moscow.
In 1840 the “Lithuanian Statute” was abolished and the name of Lithuania also disappeared and the country was called “North West Province”.
In 1855 Alexander II became Tsar, who abolished serfdom and distributed personal freedom to the peasants as well as the lands. And this was the beginning of a Lithuanian revival.
In 1863, after Poland, Lithuania also rebelled, under the leadership of Constantine Kalinowski. The enterprise failed and he was hanged the following year by order of General Murav’ev. He then prohibited the Latin alphabet and replaced it with the Russian one. This initiated the secret printing of books which went clandestinely distributed throughout the country. The apostle of this cultural and patriotic crusade was G. Basanavicius, who in 1864 founded the first national newspaper called “Ausra”, that is “Aurora”.
After a tenacious struggle there was a first result. In 1904 the language and also the national writing were readmitted. In 1905, at the outbreak of the first revolution in Russia, the ground for a wide national claim was also prepared in Lithuania and full autonomy was requested in Petersburg.
Spend the first difficulties, Russia reaffirmed its sovereignty over the country. When the First World War came, the Germans invaded Lithuania and submitted it to a military administration. For the protection of national interests in the face of invaders, a committee was formed led by Antonio Smetona. In 1917 a Council, or “Taryba”, recognized by the Germans, was founded, which on 18 February 1918 declared the Lithuanian state reconstituted with the capital Vilna, and elected Prince William of Urach of the house of Wurttemberg as king, with the name of Mindanaugas II.