of Medieval Lithuania was a rural society, while the towns just began to
During the early Middle Ages
(5–11th centuries) the chiefdoms were emerging in the territory
of Lithuania. This process is reflected in “ducal” graves which appeared
in the 5–6th centuries. This highest social stratum in about 11th
century began to transform itself to the real dukes which were
maintained by taxpayers. Until the end of the 13th century there were a
lot of minor dukes – every district was headed by a separate local duke
occupying place of a chief of an earlier period. These dukes were subjects
to the dukes of lands, and since the creation of the Grand Duchy of
Lithuania (c. 1183) – to the Grand Duke. In the 14th century
the district dukes were replaced by the stewards, called tivuns (tijūnai).
Tivun vas a representative of the sovereign, administrator of a district
Until the 14th
century most of the husbandmen were still free farmers (laukininkai).
Since the immemorial times their farms was an inheritable property of
separate families. The later sources refer to such farms as “smoke” or “service”.
Every “smoke” or “service” had a duty to pay tribute to duke.
The prisoners of war were rendered to slaves – šeimyniškiai. They
had no land of their own and were working in the manor of their lord (sovereign
There were also a group of
dependent people with a higher status in the sovereign manor – the
Leitians. The Leitis was an ancient
ethnonym for Lithuanians. They were the Lithuanians in a narrow sense,
“the sovereign’s people”, his backing in districts scattered all over the
state, especially in districts which had a strategic significance. Though
the Leitians were a category of dependent peasants, due to their close
relationship to the sovereign they were privileged in a certain sense.
One more peasant category of
ethnic origin were the Bartians – the 13th century
refugees from Prussia (the land of Barta first of all) and their progeny.
Eventually various categories
of dependent peasants appeared in the sovereign’s manors. They were
distinguished by different duties, determined by the features of their
economical activity or ethnical origin.
In the 14th century,
during the fights with the crusaders, the large stratum of the boyars
(bajorai) was forming intensively. Their main duty was military
service; therefore they used to be exempted from other duties and became
the most privileged stratum of the society. However the boyars were not
equal among themselves. The farmsteads of the numerous minor boyars
scattered among villages or huddled together in the boyar villages
differed little from the peasant farmsteads. In the meantime the richer
boyars had dependant people of their own.
The farmers that fell under
power of the boyars were called “neighbours” (kaimynai). They were
living in the neighbourhood of the boyars and were working in the land,
given them by the boyar.
As a boyar, who had dependent
people, was able to prepare for the military service better, in the early
15th century the Grand Duke Vytautas began to grant the former
free peasants to the boyars in numbers, i. e. to grant them the state
duties of these peasants. The peasants, granted to the boyars, were called
veldams. In the beginning they were obliged to do a part of their
duties in favour of the state, but soon all their duties were granted to
the boyars, including the right to judge and administrate them. The
veldams fell in an absolute power of the boyars and lost their right to
relocate. Their duties, as well as that of the peasants, who stayed in the
possession of the state, grew rapidly, while their rights diminished. The
process of enslavement of the peasants was developing intensively in the
15th century and ended finally in the 16th century.
The administrative reform of
1566 legitimized the boyar democracy – all state affairs were discussed in
the regional parliaments (seimelis) of nobility and in the Parliament
(Seimas) formed of their representatives. However the peasants and
townspeople lost any political significance.
Leitis of the Grand Duke of Lithuania