Mindaugas (German: Myndowen, Latin: Mindowe, Old East Slavic:
Мендог, Belarusian: Міндоўг, c. 1203 – autumn 1263) was
the first known Grand Duke of
Lithuania and the only King of
Lithuania. Little is known of his origins, early life, or rise to
power; he is mentioned in a 1219 treaty as an elder duke, and in 1236
as the leader of all the Lithuanians. The contemporary and modern
sources discussing his ascent mention strategic marriages along with
banishment or murder of his rivals. He extended his domain into
regions southeast of
Lithuania proper during the 1230s and 1240s. In
1250 or 1251, during the course of internal power struggles, he was
baptised as a Roman Catholic; this action enabled him to establish an
alliance with the Livonian Order, a long-standing antagonist of the
Lithuanians. During the summer of 1253 he was crowned King of
Lithuania, ruling between 300,000 and 400,000 subjects.
While his ten-year reign was marked by various state-building
accomplishments, Mindaugas's conflicts with relatives and other dukes
Samogitia (western Lithuania) strongly resisted the
alliance's rule. His gains in the southeast were challenged by the
Tatars. He broke peace with the
Livonian Order in 1261, possibly
renouncing Christianity, and was assassinated in 1263 by his nephew
Treniota and another rival, Duke Daumantas. His three immediate
successors were assassinated as well. The disorder was not resolved
Traidenis gained the title of Grand Duke c. 1270.
Although his reputation was unsettled during the following centuries
and his descendants were not notable, he gained standing during the
19th and 20th centuries.
Mindaugas was the only King of Lithuania;
while most of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes from
Jogaila onward also
reigned as Kings of Poland, the titles remained separate. Now
generally considered the founder of the Lithuanian state, he is also
now credited with stopping the advance of the
Tatars towards the
Baltic Sea, establishing international recognition of Lithuania, and
turning it towards Western civilization. In the 1990s the
Edvardas Gudavičius published research supporting an exact
coronation date – 6 July 1253. This day is now an official national
holiday, Statehood Day.
1 Sources, family, and name
2 Rise to power
3 Path to coronation
4 The Kingdom of Lithuania
5 Assassination and aftermath
7 See also
Sources, family, and name
Main article: House of Mindaugas
Baptism of Mindaugas, 17th century portrait
Contemporary written sources about
Mindaugas are very scarce. Much
what is known about his reign is obtained from the Livonian Rhymed
Chronicle and the Hypatian Codex. Both of these chronicles were
produced by enemies of
Lithuania and thus have anti-Lithuanian bias,
particularly the Hypatian Codex. They are also incomplete: both of
them lack dates and locations even for the most important events. For
Livonian Rhymed Chronicle devoted 125 poetry lines to
Mindaugas's coronation, but failed to mention either the date or the
location. Other important sources are the papal bulls regarding
baptism and coronation of Mindaugas. The Lithuanians did not produce
any surviving records themselves, except for a series of acts granting
lands to the Livonian Order, but their authenticity is disputed. Due
to lack of sources, some important questions regarding
his reign cannot be answered.
Because written sources covering the era are scarce, Mindaugas's
origins and family tree have not been conclusively established. The
Bychowiec Chronicles, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, have
been discredited in this regard, since they assert an ancestry from
the Palemonids, a noble family said to have originated within the
Roman Empire. His year of birth, sometimes given as c. 1200, is at
other times left as a question mark. His father is mentioned in
Livonian Rhymed Chronicle as a powerful duke (ein kunic grôß),
but is not named; later chronicles give his name as Ryngold.
Dausprungas, mentioned in the text of a 1219 treaty, is presumed to
have been his brother, and Dausprungas' sons
Tautvilas and Gedvydas
his nephews. He is thought to have had two sisters, one married to
Vykintas and another to Daniel of Halych.
Vykintas and his son
Treniota played major roles in later power struggles.
Mindaugas had at
least two wives,
Morta and Morta's sister, whose name is unknown, and
possibly an earlier wife; her existence is presumed because two
children – a son named
Vaišvilkas and an unnamed daughter married
Svarn in 1255 – were already leading independent lives when
Morta's children were still young. In addition to
Vaišvilkas and his
sister, two sons, Ruklys and Rupeikis, are mentioned in written
sources. The latter two were assassinated along with Mindaugas.
Information on his sons is limited and historians continue to discuss
their number. He may have had two other sons whose names were later
conflated by scribes into Ruklys and Rupeikis.
In the 13th century
Lithuania had little contact with foreign lands.
Lithuanian names sounded obscure and unfamiliar to various
chroniclers, who altered them to sound more like names in their native
language. Mindaugas's name in historic texts was recorded in
various distorted forms: Mindowe in Latin; Mindouwe, Myndow,
Myndawe, and Mindaw in German; Mendog, Mondog, Mendoch, and Mindovg in
Polish; and Mindovg, Mindog, and Mindowh in Russian, among others.
Since Russian sources provide the most information about Mindaugas's
life, they were judged the most reliable by linguists reconstructing
his original Lithuanian name. The most popular Russian rendition was
Mindovg, which can quite easily and naturally be reconstructed as
Mindaugas or Mindaugis. In 1909 the Lithuanian linguist Kazimieras
Būga published a research paper supporting the suffix -as, which has
since been widely accepted.
Mindaugas is an archaic disyllabic
Lithuanian name, used before the Christianization of Lithuania, and
consists of two components: min and daug. Its etymology may be
traced to "daug menąs" (much wisdom) or "daugio minimas" (much
Rise to power
Šeimyniškėliai Hillfort, possibly the site of
alleged capital of Mindaugas
Lithuania was ruled during the early 13th century by a number of dukes
and princes presiding over various fiefdoms and tribes. They were
loosely bonded by commonalities of religion and tradition, trade,
kinship, joint military campaigns, and the presence of captured
prisoners from neighboring areas. Western merchants and
missionaries began seeking control of the area during the 12th
century, establishing the city of Riga, Latvia in 1201. Their efforts
Lithuania were temporarily halted by defeat at the Battle of Saule
in 1236, but armed Christian orders continued to pose a threat.
The country had also undergone incursions by the Mongol Empire.
A treaty with Galicia–Volhynia, signed in 1219, is usually
considered the first conclusive evidence that the Baltic tribes in the
area were uniting in response to these threats. The treaty's
signatories include twenty Lithuanian dukes and one dowager duchess;
it specifies that five of these were elder and thus took precedence
over the remaining sixteen. Mindaugas, despite his youth, as well
as his brother
Dausprungas are listed among the elder dukes, implying
that they had inherited their titles. The Livonian Rhymed
Chronicle describes him as the ruler of all
Lithuania in 1236.
His path to this title is not clear. Ruthenian chronicles mention that
he murdered or expelled several other dukes, including his
relatives. Historian S.C. Rowell has described his rise to
power as taking place through "the familiar processes of marriage,
murder and military conquest."
During the 1230s and 1240s,
Mindaugas strengthened and established his
power in various Baltic and Slavic lands. Warfare in the region
intensified; he battled German forces in Kurland, while the Mongols
Kiev in 1240 and entered Poland in 1241, defeating two
Polish armies and burning Kraków. The Lithuanian victory in the
Battle of Saule
Battle of Saule temporarily stabilized the northern front, but the
Christian orders continued to make gains along the Baltic coast,
founding the city of
Klaipėda (Memel). Constrained in the north and
Mindaugas moved to the east and southeast, conquering
Navahrudak, Hrodna, Vawkavysk, and the Principality of Polotsk,
but there is no information about any battles for those cities. In
1246 by Chronic of Gustynia he was baptized by Orthodox church in
Navahrudak, but later because of political situation he was
re-baptized by Catholic church. In about 1239 he appointed his son
Vaišvilkas to govern these areas, then known as Black Ruthenia.
In 1248, he sent his nephews
Tautvilas and Edivydas, the sons of his
brother Dausprungas, along with Vykintas, the Duke of Samogitia, to
conquer Smolensk, but they were unsuccessful. His attempts to
consolidate his rule in
Lithuania met with mixed success; in 1249, an
internal war erupted when he sought to seize his nephews' and
Path to coronation
Papal bull issued by
Pope Innocent IV
Pope Innocent IV establishing Lithuania's
placement under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, and discussing
Mindaugas's baptism and coronation
Tautvilas, Edivydas, and
Vykintas formed a powerful coalition in
opposition to Mindaugas, along with the Samogitians of western
Lithuania, the Livonian Order,
Daniel of Galicia
Daniel of Galicia (
Edivydas' brother-in-law), and Vasilko of Volhynia. The princes of
Galicia and Volhynia managed to gain control over Black Ruthenia,
disrupting Vaišvilkas' supremacy.
Tautvilas strengthened his position
by traveling to
Riga and accepting baptism by the Archbishop. In
1250, the Order organized a major raid through the lands of Nalšia
into the domains of
Lithuania proper, and a raid into
those parts of
Samogitia that still supported him. Attacked from
the north and south and facing the possibility of unrest elsewhere,
Mindaugas was placed in an extremely difficult position, but managed
to use the conflicts between the
Livonian Order and the Archbishop of
Riga to further his own interests. He succeeded in bribing Order
Master Andreas von Stierland, who was still angry at
Vykintas for the
defeat at the
Battle of Saule
Battle of Saule in 1236, by sending him "many
Mindaugas monument in Vilnius
In 1250 or 1251,
Mindaugas agreed to receive baptism and relinquish
control over some lands in western Lithuania, in return for an
Pope Innocent IV
Pope Innocent IV as king. The Pope welcomed a
Lithuania as a bulwark against Mongol threats; in turn,
Mindaugas sought papal intervention in the ongoing Lithuanian
conflicts with the Christian orders. On 17 July 1251, the pope
signed two crucial papal bulls. One ordered the
Bishop of Chełmno to
Mindaugas as King of Lithuania, appoint a bishop for Lithuania,
and build a cathedral. The other bull specified that the new
bishop was to be directly subordinate to the Holy See, rather than to
the Archbishop of Riga. This autonomy was a welcome
development. The precise date of Mindaugas's baptism is not
known. His wife, two sons, and members of his court were baptized;
Pope Innocent wrote later that a multitude of Mindaugas's subjects
also received Christianity.
The process of coronation and the establishment of Christian
institutions would take two years. Internal conflicts persisted;
during the spring or summer of 1251,
Tautvilas and his remaining
allies attacked Mindaugas's warriors and the Livonian Order's
Voruta Castle. The attack failed, and Tautvilas'
forces retreated to defend themselves in Tviremet Castle (presumed to
Tverai in Samogitia).
Vykintas died in 1251 or 1252, and
Tautvilas was forced to rejoin Daniel of Galicia.
The Kingdom of Lithuania
Mindaugas's acts granting territories
to the Livonian Order
Samogitia (half of Raseiniai, Betygala, Ariogala, and
Laukuva – the other half went to Bishop Christian in March 1254),
half of Dainava and Nadruva
Karšuva, Nadruva, portions of Samogitia
7 August 1259
Portions of Dainava, all of Skalva and Samogitia
Mindaugas died without an heir)
7 August 1261
All of Selonia
Mindaugas and his wife
Morta were crowned during the summer of 1253.
Bishop Henry Heidenreich of Kulm presided over the ecclesiastical
ceremonies and Andreas Stirland conferred the crown. 6 July is now
celebrated as Statehood Day (Lithuanian: Valstybės diena); it is an
official holiday in modern Lithuania. The exact date of the
coronation is not known; the scholarship of historian Edvardas
Gudavičius, who promulgated this precise date, is sometimes
challenged. The location of the coronation also remains unknown.
Relative peace and stability prevailed for about eight years.
Mindaugas used this opportunity to concentrate on the expansion to the
east, and to establish and organize state institutions. He
strengthened his influence in Black Ruthenia, in Polatsk, a major
center of commerce in the
Daugava River basin, and in Pinsk. He
also negotiated a peace with Galicia–Volhynia, and married his
daughter to Svarn, the son of Daniel of Galicia, who would later
become Grand Duke of Lithuania. Lithuanian relationships with western
Europe and the
Holy See were reinforced. In 1255,
Pope Alexander IV
Pope Alexander IV to crown his son as King of
Lithuania. A noble court, an administrative system, and a
diplomatic service were initiated. Silver long coins, an index of
statehood, were issued. He sponsored the construction of a
cathedral in Vilnius, possibly on the site of today's Vilnius
The Seal of Mindaugas, attached to the Act of October 1255, could be a
medieval forgery by the Teutonic Knights
Immediately after his coronation,
Mindaugas transferred some lands to
Livonian Order – portions of Samogitia, Nadruva, and
Dainava—although his control over these western lands was
tenuous. There has been much discussion among historians as to
whether in later years (1255–1261)
Mindaugas gave even more lands to
the order. The deeds might have been falsified by the order; the
case for this scenario is bolstered by the fact that some of the
documents mention lands that were not actually under the control of
Mindaugas and by various irregularities in treaty witnesses and
Mindaugas and his antagonist Daniel reached a reconciliation in 1255;
the Black Ruthenian lands were transferred to Roman, Daniel's son.
Afterwards Mindaugas's son
Vaišvilkas received baptism as a member of
the Orthodox faith, becoming a monk and later founding a convent and
monastery. Tautvilas's antagonism was temporarily resolved when
he recognized Mindaugas's superiority and received
Polatsk as a
fiefdom. A direct confrontation with the
Mongols occurred in 1258
or 1259, when
Berke Khan sent his general
Burundai to challenge
Lithuanian rule, ordering Daniel and other regional princes to
Novgorod Chronicle describes the following action as
a defeat of the Lithuanians, but it has also been seen as a net gain
A single sentence in the
Hypatian Chronicle mentions Mindaugas
defending himself in
Voruta against his nephews and Duke Vykintas; two
other sources mention "his castle". The location of
Voruta is not
specified, and this has led to considerable speculation, along with
archeological research, concerning the seat of his court. At least
fourteen different locations have been proposed, including Kernavė
and Vilnius. The ongoing formal archeological digs at Kernavė
began in 1979 after a portion of the site named "
hill-fort" collapsed. The town now hosts a major celebration on
Assassination and aftermath
Expansion of the Grand Duchy of
Lithuania between the 13th and 15th
Livonian Order used their alliance with
Mindaugas to gain control
over Samogitian lands. In 1252 he approved the Order's construction of
Klaipeda Castle. Their governance, however, was seen as
oppressive. Local merchants could only conduct transactions via
Order-approved intermediaries; inheritance laws were changed; and the
choices among marriage partners and residencies were restricted.
Several pitched battles ensued. In 1259 the Order lost the Battle of
Skuodas, and in 1260 it lost the Battle of Durbe. The first defeat
encouraged a rebellion by the Semigalians, and the defeat at Durbe
spurred the Prussians into the Great Prussian Rebellion, which lasted
for 14 years. Encouraged by these developments and by his nephew
Mindaugas broke peace with the Order. The gains he had
expected from Christianization had proven to be minor.
Mindaugas may have reverted to paganism afterwards. His motivation for
conversion is often described by modern historians as merely
strategic. The case for his apostasy rests largely on two
near-contemporary sources: a 1324 assertion by
Pope John XXII
Pope John XXII that
Mindaugas had returned to error, and the Galician–Volhynian
Chronicle. The chronicler writes that
Mindaugas continued to
practice paganism, making sacrifices to his god, burning corpses, and
conducting pagan rites in public. Historians have pointed to the
possibility of bias in this account, since
Mindaugas had been at war
with Volhynia. Pope Clement IV, on the other hand, wrote in
1268 of "
Mindaugas of happy memory" (clare memorie Mindota),
expressing regret at his murder.
In any event, the Lithuanians were not prepared to accept
Christianity, and Mindaugas's baptism had little impact on further
developments. The majority of the population and the nobility
remained pagan; his subjects were not required to convert. The
cathedral he had built in
Vilnius was superseded by a pagan temple,
and all the diplomatic achievements made after his coronation were
lost, although the practice of Christianity and intermarriage were
Regional conflicts with the Order escalated.
Alexander Nevsky of
Novgorod, Tautvilas, and Tautvilas's son Constantine agreed to form a
coalition in opposition to Mindaugas, but their plans were
Treniota emerged as the leader of the Samogitian
resistance; he led an army to
Cēsis (now in Latvia), reaching the
Estonian coast, and battled
Masovia (now in Poland). His goal was to
encourage all the conquered Baltic tribes to rise up against the
Christian orders and unite under Lithuanian leadership. His
personal influence grew while
Mindaugas was concentrating on the
conquest of Ruthenian lands, dispatching a large army to Bryansk.
Mindaugas began to pursue different priorities. The
Rhymed Chronicle mentions Mindaugas's displeasure at the fact that
Treniota did not create any alliances in Latvia or Estonia; he may
have come to prefer diplomacy. In the midst of these events
Morta died, and he took her sister, Daumantas' wife,
as his own. In retaliation, Daumantas and Treniota
Mindaugas and two of his sons in fall 1263. According
to a late medieval tradition, the assassination took place in
Aglona. He was buried along with his horses, in accordance with
ancestral tradition. After Mindaugas's death,
into internal disorder. Three of his successors—Treniota, his
son-in-law Svarn, and his son Vaišvilkas—were assassinated during
the next seven years. Stability did not return until the reign of
Traidenis, designated Grand Duke c. 1270.
Litas Commemorative coin dedicated to King Mindaugas, with the
Mindaugas King of Lithuania
Mindaugas held a dubious position in Lithuanian historiography until
Lithuanian national revival
Lithuanian national revival of the 19th century. While pagan
sympathizers held him in disregard for betraying his religion,
Christians saw his support as lukewarm. He received only passing
references from Grand Duke
Gediminas and was not mentioned at all by
Vytautas the Great. His known family relations end with his
children; no historic records note any connections between his
descendants and the
Gediminids dynasty that ruled
Lithuania and Poland
until 1572. A 17th-century rector of
Vilnius University held him
responsible for the troubles then being experienced by the
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth ("the seed of internal discord among
the Lithuanians had been sown".) A 20th-century historian charged
him with the "destruction of the organization of the Lithuanian
state". The first academic study of his life by a Lithuanian
Jonas Totoraitis (Die Litauer unter dem König Mindowe bis
zum Jahre 1263) was not published until 1905. In the 1990s
Edvardas Gudavičius published his findings pinpointing a
coronation date, which became a national holiday. The 750th
anniversary of his coronation was marked in 2003 by the dedication of
Mindaugas Bridge in Vilnius, numerous festivals and concerts, and
visits from other heads of state. In Belarus, there is the
legendary Mindaugas's Hill (be) in Navahrudak, mentioned by Adam
Mickiewicz in his 1828 poem Konrad Wallenrod. A memorial stone on the
Mindaugas's hill was installed in 1993 and a metal sculpture of
Mindaugas in 2014.
Mindaugas is the primary subject of the 1829 drama Mindowe, by Juliusz
Słowacki, one of the Three Bards. He has been portrayed in
several 20th-century literary works: the Latvian author Mārtiņš
Zīverts' tragedy Vara (Power, 1944), Justinas Marcinkevičius'
Mindaugas (1968), Romualdas Granauskas' Jaučio aukojimas
(The Offering of the Bull, 1975), and Juozas Kralikauskas' Mindaugas
Mindaugas and creation of the Grand Duchy is
the main topic of the 2002 Belarusian novel Alhierd's Lance by Volha
Ipatava (be) dedicated to the 750th anniversary of the
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mindaugas.
List of rulers of Lithuania
List of rulers of Belarus
Early dukes of Lithuania
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House of Mindaugas
Grand Duke/King of Lithuania
Monarchs of Lithuania
Early Grand Dukes
Sigismund I the Old
Sigismund II Augustus
Henry III of Valois
Anna the Jagiellonian
Sigismund III Vasa
Ladislaus IV Vasa
John II Casimir Vasa
Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki
John III Sobieski
Augustus II the Strong
August III the Saxon
Stanisław August Poniatowski