Human settlements existed in the area of present day Lithuania since neolithic times (c. 5000 BCE). Ancestors of Lithuanians, Samogitians, Yotvingians, and Couranians began to settle around the Nieman (Nemunus) River c.1500 BCE. These peoples traded fish, furs and amber with the Greeks and later with the Romans. Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus described the Lithuanians as hard working farmers, fishermen and trappers. Though the land was overrun by the Goths, the Lithuanians retained their ethnic and political identity. The first written mention of the name Lituae (Lithuania) appeared in the Annals of Quedlinburg (1009 CE). Some scholars say that Lithuania's name might had originated from the Lietauka river (tributary of the Neris in the district of Jonava) which was also called Lietuva.
Boleslaw V, the duke of Poland requested the aid of the German monastic military orders (the Order of the Knights of the Sword and the Teutonic Order) in his campaign against the pagan Prussians of northeastern Poland in 1229 CE. Prussians were ethnically related to the Lithuanians. The knights completely wiped out the Prussians and their culture except the name. Thereafter, the Teutonic knights refused to leave and organized the territory into an independent entity called East Prussia. Duke Mindaugas united the lands inhabited by the Lithuanians into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1240 CE to resist the Teutonic Order. Grand Duke Mindaugas also adopted christianity to avoid the same fate for his people that had befallen on the Prussians. He was crowned as the King of Lithuania on July 6, 1253 CE. He was the first and the only king of Lithuania. There was resentment from the other princes over Mindaugas' introduction of Christianity to the people. Mindaugas was assassinated in 1263 CE.
There was a period of civil unrest following the death of Mindaugas. There were three Grand Dukes in quick succession. They were Trenoita (1263-1265 CE), Vaisvilkas (1265-1268 CE) and Svarnas (1268-1269 CE). Traidenis took power in 1270 and ruled as a Grand Duke until his death in 1282 CE. Grand Duke Vytenis (1295-1316 ) defeated the Teutonic Knights and assured the safety of Lithuania. Grand Duke Gediminas (1316 - 41CE) founded the capital Vilnius. Grand Duke Algirdas (1345-82) almost doubled the size of Lithuanian territory. He also issued tamgha silver denars with a mounted knight charging to the right.
Grand Duke of Lithuania Jogaila (1382 -92 CE) married the queen of Poland Jadwyga. Lithuania and Poland formed a Federation that lasted for next two centuries. Grand Duke Vytautas Didysis (1392 -1430 CE) briefly restored the Lithuania's independent status as a grand duchy. He issued cross and lance head type silver denars.
A united Polish-Lithuanian army under Jogaila and Vytautas defeated the Teutonic Order in the Battle of Tannenberg (Grunewald) in 1410 CE, ending forever their expansion to the east. The combined Polish-Lithuanian empire stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea covering much of modern day Ukraine and Russia, excluding the Duchy of Muskovy. Casimir IV, the son of Jogaila united Lithuania and Poland permanently in 1440 CE. After the accession of Casimir's son Alexander I in 1492, both countries had only one ruler. Alexander issued silver groschens and denars with a mounted knight charging to left. Sigismund I (Zygimantas senasis) issued coins with the year imprinted on them.
Zygimantas Augustas (1548-72 CE) established a mint in Vilnius. The Union of Lublin in 1569, united Poland and Lithuania into a commonwealth. The highest power belonged to the nobility and its elected King who was also the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Vilnius University was established in 1579 and it stimulated the development of culture in Lithuania. The Gediminaichai dynasty ended with the death of Zygimantas Augustas in 1572 CE. Steponas Batoras (1576-86) became Grand Duke of Lithuania. He issued unified Lithuanian and Polish coins. They were minted with emblems of both countries. Those coins were called “dvidenariai” and “trechokai”. Vladislovas Vaza (1632-84) minted coins only with Polish emblems. Jonas Kazimieras (1632-48) restored minting coins with Lithuanian emblems. The rest of the Lithuanian history consists of internal struggles with the Polish nobility and the gradual decline of the language and culture of Lithuania.
Wars against Russia and Sweden weakened the Polish-Lithuanian state in the 17th & 18th centuries. In 1795, most of Lithuania was occupied by the Russian empire. Uprisings in 1830-31 and 1863 to restore independence were suppressed. It was followed by the closure of Vilnius University (1832) and a ban on the printing of Lithuanian books in traditional Latin characters (1864). It was lifted only in 1904.
Rulers of Lithuania
Algirdas ir Kestutis 1345-1382
Jogaila (Wladyslaw II Jogaila) 1382-1392
Vytautas the Great 1392-1430
Zygimantas Kestutaitis 1432-1440
Kazimieras Jogailaitis (Casimir IV. Andreas ) 1440-1492
Aleksandras (Alexander) 1492-1506
Zygimantas senasis ( Sigismund the old ) 1506-1548
Zygimantas Augustas ( Sigismund Augustus ) 1548-1572
Steponas Batoras 1576-1586
Zigmantas Vaza 1587-1632
Vladislavas Vaza 1632-1648
Jonas Kazimieras Vaza 1648-1668
Mykolas Kaributas Visnioveckis 1669-1673
Jonas Sobieskis 1674-1696
Augustas II 1697-1706
Saksai dynasty 1709-1733
Augustas III 1734-1763
Stanislovas-Augustas Poniatovskis 1764-1795
The German Army occupied Lithuania in 1915 and allowed a Lithuanian Conference to convene in Vilnius in 1917. The conference elected the Lithuanian Council chaired by Antanas Smetona. The council declared Lithuania's independence in February 16, 1918. After the Lithuanian war of Independence (1917-20) against the Russians, the Polish Army and the Germans, it gained independence. Russia recognized Lithuanian independence in 1920. Lithuania became a parliamentary republic after the Seimas (parliament) of Lithuania adopted a constitution on August 1, 1922. Lithuania issued its own coins ( 50 million aluminum-bronze cents and silver Litas) in 1925. They were minted by the English company King's Norton Metal Works and Royal Mint. After a military coup on December 17, 1926, the Nationalist party leader Antanas Smetona became president with autocratic powers. The Spindulys Mint in Kaunas was established in 1936. It minted 23 million circulation coins and 180,000 commemorative siver 10 litas in 1936. Sculptor Juozas Zikaras' designs were used on the coins.
In 1939, Germany forced Lithuania to surrender the Klaipeda region. Lithuania was occupied and proclaimed a Soviet Socialist Republic in 1940 by the Soviet Union ending the independent Lithuania. After the break up of Soviet Union in 1991, Lithuania became an independent nation again. They started minting Lithuanian coins in 1991.
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Its Present National Aspirations. Philadelphia, USA.1918.
Jurgela, C.R. History of the Lithuanian nation. New York. USA. 1948.
Koncius, J., History of Lithuania. Chicago. USA. 1966.
J.Kapocius. (Publisher)., Encyclopedia Lithuanica. Vol. I-VI. Boston, MA. USA. 1970-1978.
Rimantiene, R., The East Baltic Area in the fourth and the third millennia BC. The Journal of Indo-European Studies. 1980, No 8.
Rowell, S.C., Lithuania Ascending : A Pagan Empire within East-Central Europe, 1295-1345. Cambridge University Press. UK. 1994.
Senn, A.E., Lithuanian history. Madison, USA. 1997.
Stone, D. Z., The Polish-Lithuanian State, 1386-1795. University of Washington Press. USA. 2001.