Latvia and Lithuania

Baltic peoples: c.1500 BC

During the 2nd millennium BC various Indo-european tribes, speaking what are classed as the Baltic languages, settle along the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. To the north of them are people speaking Finno-ugric languages, who occupy the modern regions of Estonia and Finland.

The southernmost of the Baltic peoples are the Prussians, who are conquered by the Teutonic Knights and subsequently become absorbed into German culture. But the people in the region between the original Prussia and Estonia retain their Baltic identity. They develop into the modern communities of Lithuania and Latvia.

Pagan Lithuania: 13th - 14th century AD

In the early 13th century the Lithuanian tribes, still pagan, are threatened by two groups of crusading Germans. The Order of the Knights of the sword are forcibly converting the Latvians to the north, while the Teutonic knights do the same to the Prussians in the south. The tribal chieftains of Lithuania successfully resist invasion but weigh up the possible advantages of adopting the religion of either of their warlike neighbours - the Catholic germans or the Orthodox russians.

In 1251 a supreme chieftain of the tribes, Mindaugas, opts for Rome and is baptized with his family. But he and his two sons are assassinated by the pagan opposition in 1263.

Lithuania, remaining pagan, grows greatly in strength and stability under Gediminas, who rules from 1315. He makes Vilnius his capital and begins to extend his territory. When his grandson Jogaila inherits, in 1377, Lithuania stretches through Belorussia and south into the Ukraine as far as Kiev.

Jogaila (better known to history as Jagiello, the Polish version of his name) solves in dramatic fashion the question of which religion to adopt - when he negotiates, in 1385, with ambassadors from Poland.

Jogaila and Jadwiga: AD 1385-1386

In August 1385 Jogaila and the Polish ambassadors come to an agreement. Lithuania, together with Belorussia and Kiev (part of Jogaila's inheritance), is to be linked to the Polish crown. In return, he is himself to marry the 11-year-old queen (he is about thirty-four) and become king of Poland.

During the following winter Jogaila, or Jagiello as his name is written in Polish, travels south to Cracow. He is baptized a Roman Catholic in the cathedral on February 15, adding the Polish name Wladyslaw to his own. He marries Jadwiga on February 18. On March 4 he is crowned, as Wladyslaw II.

In making Lithuania Roman Catholic, Wladyslaw brings into the Christian fold the last remaining pagan kingdom in Europe. The conversion which the Teutonic knights have tried so hard to impose in a century and a half of violence is achieved at a stroke, by Polish diplomacy, through the more peaceful means of marriage.

The kingdom created by the union of Lithuania and Poland becomes immediately the most powerful state in eastern Europe. Its strength is shown in a dramatic clash with the Teutonic knights. They attack Poland in 1409, provoking a response from Wladyslaw which brings a great victory over the knights at Grunwald in 1410.

Poland and Lithuania: AD 1386-1772

The coronation of Wladyslaw II in 1386 forges a link between Poland and Lithuania which lasts nearly four centuries. At first the separate identity of Lithuania is carefully preserved. The region is guaranteed a grand prince of its own, who sometimes but not invariably will also be the king of Poland.

In 1501 it is agreed that the king of Poland shall always be the grand prince of Lithuania. In 1569 this personal union develops into a more complete merging of kingdom and principality when a joint sejm or parliament is established, formed of nobles and gentry from both regions. Lithuania has its own identity (the language of the majority is Belorussian), but it remains a part of Poland until the partitions of 1772-95.

This History is as yet incomplete.