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Medieval Lithuania
HISTORY OF MEDIEVAL LITHUANIA

              The Formation of the Lithuanian State: Summary of the book |  Opinions |  Writing the book


The origin of our state.
New approach

Tomas Baranauskas. Lietuvos valstybės ištakos. Vilnius, Vaga, 2000. 317 p.

       On the eve of the 6th of July, Mindaugas’ crowning – State day, a monograph “The formation of the Lithuanian State” by Tomas Baranauskas appeared in the bookstores. This book is a brave attempt to cast a new glance to the first stage of the development of the Lithuanian State, which was researched by a lot of historians, but still is not known good enough.
       Already in the school desk we were all convinced that the beginning of the Lithuanian State is directly related with the reign of Mindaugas, his policy of uniting the Baltic tribes, inhabiting the territory of modern Lithuania, and expansion of the young Lithuanian State to the East. Any attempt to deny or at least revise this thesis may look like not serious or even sacrilegious. T. Baranauskas shows evidently in his work, that there are a lot of facts, which allow to revise some generally accepted statements and to make new presumptions. As the author says in the introduction of the book, in this work the disposed factual material is revised and its new interpretation is suggested, avoiding accepted, but ungrounded stereotypes.
       Before starting the examination of the problems, connected with the formation of the Lithuanian State, the author discusses the concept of the state, helping reader to understand the starting point of the problem under discussion, which allows distinguishing state and pre-state structures. It is asserted that “state in the narrow sense is a regional political organisation ruled by professional officers maintained by taxpayers.”
       Much attention the author devotes to the review of the sources and, especially, historiography. The works of Lithuanian and foreign historians are discussed, including the newest research. In many places polemics with the most prominent modern historian, who is researching the questions of the development of early Lithuanian State, Edvardas Gudavičius, is carried on. This makes the book of T. Baranauskas even more interesting. A big and thorough work of the author is testified also by the fact, that very abundant research material, statements of historians, published in various books, scientific articles and even popular periodicals, are used.
       In order to understand better the formation of our state, the development of political organisation in Lithuanian territory before the establishment of the state is briefly discussed. The author singles out three main stages of pre-state political organisation – the period of existence of hunter bands, the development of tribes of early agriculturists, and formation of chiefdoms or pre-states. Discussing these questions, the works of Lithuanian, as well as foreign, archaeologists and historians are used.
       Discussing the formation of the Duchy of Lithuania, the author guesses that the process was stimulated not just by the internal factors of social and political development, but also by the influence of the neighbouring countries (first of all that of the Slavic lands). It is supposed that the Duchy of Lithuania was an early state structure, which formed itself probably about the 11th century. The formation of the Duchy of Lithuania is connected with the growth of the system of castles and deepening of social stratification. The castles were defensive centres and ducal residences. In the 11-12th centuries they were appearing mainly in the eastern part of modern Aukštaitija and Dzūkija, where the initial land of Lithuania was. As T. Baranauskas guesses, the creation of the Duchy of Lithuania was stimulated by the needs of defence against the Kievan Ruthenia, as well as by cultural influence, spreading from there. Duchy was a natural stage in the political development of Lithuania. In the beginning of the 2nd millennium Lithuania became the leader of the Baltic lands in terms of level of political organisation. She was the only, who managed to grow into the grand duchy and defend her independence. The author dates the establishment of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) to 1183. It is asserted that the main indication of its establishment was sudden growth of the Lithuanian military power and almost unchangeable intensity of the military raids in the period before Mindaugas and in the times of Mindaugas, when the GDL was already undoubtedly functioning. The author grounds this also with the written sources, for example, the information of the Livonian chronicle that the father of Mindaugas was a King, who had no equals.
       It is noted that the threat of relatively strengthened Ruthenia, and perhaps the threat of Danish expansion for the Samogitians, stimulated the establishment of the GDL. Interesting facts, testifying that the rulers of the neighbouring countries had serious malicious intentions in respect of the Lithuanian lands, are presented. According to T. Baranauskas, this circumstance was favourable for the formation of the GDL. The external threat was forcing the Baltic lands, bordering on the Duchy of Lithuania, to take care for their security. In this time Lithuania already strengthened her authority and could supply this defence. Under these circumstances the rulers of Lithuania didn’t need much efforts to persuade the neighbours to submit to her protection. “Somewhere perhaps usage of some force was necessary, in the other cases, as it seems, persuasion was enough, and the new state of Lithuania was created”. In the 13–14th centuries, when the Ruthenian duchies faced the threat of Mongols-Tartars, they began submitting to the Lithuanian protection without greater resistance as if continuing the process of the formation of the GDL.
       The author devotes much attention to military raids of the Lithuanians in the 12–13th centuries. The raids of the Lithuanians and neighbouring tribes (especially the Yatvingians) reached especially large scale in this period. It is interesting that data survived, testifying that the Lithuanian warriors were participating even in such remote military conflicts as the Swedish war against the Ruthenians and their supporters Karelians in 1191. It is asserted that the Lithuanians were supporting the Swedes in this war.
       In the last part of the book the author exhaustively enough discusses the development of the Lithuanian State in the 13th century, and the role of Mindaugas as the ruler.
       It is pleasant that the author is capable to speak about the meanderingness of history not in throughout academic, but in clear, comprehensive to a broad circle of readers, language. It’s a pity that there are too few of illustrations (a part of them, especially photos, are of poor quality), reconstructions, maps.
       Undoubtedly a lot of statements expressed in this monograph will provoke new discussions, will serve as stimulus for new research, more diverse interpretation of the possessed data. It is very interesting to look at one of the most important and mysterious periods of the history of our country from the new point of view.

       Manvydas VITKŪNAS

       Karys. – 2000 07 14–28. – Nr. 14 (1839). – P. 29.

       Translated from Lithuanian by Tomas Baranauskas

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