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Saturday, 20 January 2018 16:57

A HISTORY OF UKRAINE. EPISODE 29. THE DUCHY OF LITHUANIA, RUTHENIA AND SAMOGITIA

Oleksandr Palii, A History of Ukraine, 20.01.2018

 

EPISODE 28 HERE 


The lands of the Lithuanian tribes were separated from the Mongols by dense forests. Lithuanian chieftains acquired military experience as they launched attacks on the lands of the former Kyivan state, Poland and the Teutonic Order. The Belarusian chronicle reported that the Lithuanians were so poor prior to their ascent that they paid tribute to Galician and Volhynian princes in bast and brooms for lack of more valuable goods. 

 

During the rule of the Lithuanian Grand Prince Gediminas (1295–1341), Lithuanian forays turned into a massive onslaught. Noteworthily, his predecessor Prince Butvydas was forced to give Galician and Volhynian princes lands in the center of the Duchy of Lithuania “for the sake of peace”. According to Lithuanian chronicles, the great Lithuanian army invaded Volhynia in 1320, seizing the city of Volodymyr. The boyars made an agreement with Gediminas, acknowledging him their supreme ruler, while he pledged to respect governance customs, not to take away the possessions of the Volhynian nobility and to appoint only locals to offices

 

Gediminas attacked the Kyiv principality in 1321 and the Rus’ princes were defeated in a battle on the Irpin River near Kyiv. The Kyivans withstood a siege for a month but then made an agreement with Gediminas acknowledging him as supreme ruler. In exchange, he again promised not to violate the established order, not to take away the lands of the local magnates and to appoint only Rusyns to high offices. Gediminas acquired the title of “the king of the Lithuanians and the Rusyns (another known as Ruthenians)”. 

 

the GDL Gediminas

Lithuanian Grand Prince Gediminas (ruled in 1295-1341), engraving, 16th century. 

 

The new state began to be called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Ruthenia and Samogitia (from the name of a region in northwestern Lithuania). It's interesting that due to there was no written Lithuanian language at that times, the Ruthenian (i.e. Old Ukrainian) language, as the most widely spoken one by almost 80% of population, has been used in the official documents of the Grand Duchy until ... 1697, albeit Latin, German, and later Polish were sometimes used too. Another amazing fact is that only in 1387 Lithuania itself and their princes were finally baptised, being before a true pagan state. 

 

It should be noted that Muscovy was under Mongol rule for over 240 years, three times longer than Ukraine. Ivan I Kalita (ruled in 1325–1340), one of the founders of Muscovy, spent most of his time on the throne not in ruling in Moscow but traveling to Saray. 

 

Muscovy freed itself from the Great Horde as late as in 1480, while tribute was last paid to the descendants of Genghis Khan (ruled in 1206-1227) in the early 18th century. The Mongol-Tatar yoke was denigrating even to the nobility. Contemporaries wrote that Muscovite princes met, on foot, Tatar envoys on Poklonnaya Hill. They would take Tatar horses by the bridle and gave them mare’s milk to drink and if it dripped onto the horse’s mane, they would lick it up. After casting off the Mongol-Tatar yoke, Muscovite princes put an even greater burden on other peoples. In particular, they destroyed, to the last man, the population of Novgorod, which was closely tied to Kyiv by history and religion.

 

the GDL VytautasLithuanian Grand Prince Vytautas the Great (ruled in 1392-1430)  


Around 1362, the decisive battle against the Mongols and Tatars took place at Syni Vody (Blue Waters, according to various versions, on the Syniukha River or the Snyvoda River in Central Ukraine). Ukrainian units made up the bulk of the army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The main enemy forces were crushed and the Mongol-Tatar khans died in action. This victory marked the end of the Horde’s power over the larger portion of the Ukrainian lands. As a result of the victory, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Ruthenia extended to the Black Sea coast. The Mongol empire had been expanding until that time, but began to disintegrate starting from the 1360s.

 

the GDL BilhorodFortress in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi (White town on Dnister river), controlled by the Kyiv principality in late 14th and early 15th centuries. 


For more than three decades after the battle at Syni Vody the Tatars were practically not seen in Kyivan lands. The country began to revive.

TO EPISODE 30

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