FROM THE HISTORY OF SAMOGITIA (Zemaitija)
In 1236 near Siauliai the Saulës Battle took place where the Samogitians led by the Duke Vykintas defeated the Knights of the Sword. Eight months later a political union between the Knights of the Sword and the Knights of the Cross was formed. The orders hoped to inite their lands Samogitia.
In 1251 the Battle of Tverai took place. The fortress governed by the Samogitian Duke Vykintas was attacked by Mindaugas’ trecps, but they failed to take if. Mindaugas was injured, Duke Vykintas was killed in the battle.
In 1259 the Battle of Skuodas was fought where the Samogitians defeated the Livonian crusaders . At that time the Samogitians were intensively attacking Livonia. They were conducting a separate policy, different from the peace treaty concluded between Mindaugas and the Livonian Order in 1251.
On 3 July, 1260 the Battle of Durbe took place. The Samogitians led by Duke Treniota completely defeated the the joined forces of Livonian and Prussian orders. After that the order faced the danger of a downfall because soon the Great Prussian Revolt began.
In 1329 the crusaders led by Czech King Jan the Luxembourgian surrounded the Medvegalis Castle where there were about 6.000 people. The Samogitians put up a heroic fight but were defeated. Men, women and children were christened but soon they went leack to their old religious practices.
On 31 October, 1382 on the island in the mouth of the Dubysa River three treaties were concluded with the German Order on behalf of Jogaila and Skirgaila. Under one of the treaties the Lithuanian dukes agreed to be christened; according to the second treaty they plecloed their help to the Order in its struggle with enemies. The third treaty gave the Order the Samogitian lands located between the two parts of the Order up to the Dubysa River. However, it seemed that already in 1382 Jogaila knew about the project concerning his invitation to the Polish throne and expected his future marriage him off to Hedwig, that's why he conducted an independent course of politics. Terminating relationship with Jogaila, the crusaders paid more attention to Vytautas and upon his christening they again demanded the Samogitians.
On 12 October, 1398 on a island on the Nemunas’ the Grand Duke Vytautas concluded a treaty (Island treaty) with the Order of the Cross. According to this treaty the Grand Duchy of Lithuania gave the Order the Samogitian lands up to the Nevezis River. If the previous promises concerning the Samogitian presents to the Order stayed on parchment, the present agreement had a reasonable basis for fulfilling of its provisions and Vytautas’ promise to help the crusaders to seize the Samogitians. However the Order ruled the Samogitians only until 1401 when Vytautas according to the Vilnius and Radom deeds was formally granted the title of a Grand Duke of Lithuania. The same year the Samogitians revolted and destroyed two castles built by the Order and all the Order could do was to resort to battles as before. The Order accused Vytautas with inciting the Samogitians against them.
On 1 February, 1411 on an island on the Vistula River opposite Torun Lithuanian and Polish states signed a treaty with the German Order which eceded the Samogitian lands to Vytautas and Jogaila for life.
In 1413 Vytautas and Jogaila went to Samogitia for one week, and symbolically christened it in order to weaken the Order’s claims to the Samogitian land.
In Konstanza (Switzerland) in 1415 a church council took place where the future of the Samogitian land wasdecided among other issues.
The Samogitian issue was one of the reasons which caused the great conflict known as the Battle of Zalgiris (Grünwald). But the Lithuanian-Polish victory did not settle the matters. The first disagreements between Vytautas and the Order began about the borders of Samogitian. In 1414 Vytautas and Jogaila declared war on the Order. As the fighting went on, Pope John XXIII sent his legate, Lausanne’s Bishop Wilhelm, who on behalf of the pope proposed to settle the disagreement at a church council. On the initiative of Vytautas sixty christened Samogitian noblemen came to Konstanz to take part in the church council. They submitted to the council the well-known Samogitian complaint, the major part of which described the evils caused by the Order from which Samogitians suffered. However, in Konstanza the Order had many supporters and the responses to the complaint were rather aggressive. The crusaders only recognized that they held Samogitia like „a slippery eel by its tail”. Despite the fact that the Konstanz church council didn’t solve the problem of Samogitia, however, they fulfilled most important Samogitianis request „to authorise Jogaila and Vytautas to take the Vilnius Bishop Petras and the Lvov Archbishop Jonas go to Samogitia in order to christen us and build a cathedral and churches in our region”.
In summer 1417 upon the arrival of Vytautas and the Vilnius and Lvov bishops to Samogitia thousands of the Samogitians were baptized. In the autumn of 1417 when christening was drawing to a close Vytautas returned to Samogitia and chose the capital of bishopric – Medininkai. A cathedral was consecrated there.
On 27 September 1422 Lithuania (Vytautas) and Poland (Jogaila) concluded a treaty with the German Order (the Meln Treaty) which solved the Samogitian problem.
Diplomatic war regarding Samogitia went on for a long time. In 1422 Jogaila and Vytautas declared war on the Order and upon joining their armies they entered the Order’s lands from Poland. The Order was not ready for military conflicts and defended only in castles. The Lithuanian and Polish armies devastated the whole region. The Master of the Order had to ask for peace. The Lithuanians regained almost the whole of Samogitia. Despite Vytautas’ efforts, the Nemunas’ mouth and a convenient access to the Baltic Sea through Klaipeda were ceded to the German Order. The borders established in 1422 lasted almost for five centuries, until 1910.
In 1441 the Grand Duke of Lithuania Casimir gave the Samogitians privileges, which nowadays would mean sovereignty within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Sincle old times the Samogitians lived a separate political life cooperating with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in case of necessity, showing all the time their independent attitude. They played a special role in the Order’s fights. Jogaila, Vytautas ans Svitrigaila gave them to the crusaders six times. The independent policy of the Samogitians was revealed by the Vytautas’ privilege of 1413. (By the way it was Vytautas who ceded Samogitian to the Order many times.)
In 1411 Kesgaila Valimantaitis was appointed Samogitian monitor by Vytautas. When in Trakai Castle in 1440 the Grand Duke of Lithuania Zygimantas Kestutaitis was killed delegation of Lithuanian noblemen went to Warsaw to ask Jogaila’s son Kazimieras to ascend the Lithuanian throne. The Samogitians however unanimously supported Zygimantas’ son Mykolas. Expecting favours from Mykolas’ the Samogitians revolted and got rid on Kesgaila.The Grand Duke of Lithuania and the King of Poland Casimir Jogailaitis (Kazimieras Jogailaitis, Kazimierz Jagieùùoñczyk, 1440-1492) donates for the elder of Samogitia, or Þemaitija John Kæsgailaitis (Jonas Kæsgailaitis, ?-1485) and his heirs three estates in Samogitia.]
Gardinas (Grodno), April 16, 1465.
The original document is witnessed by a small red lacquer seal of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in a wax bowl (the right side is crushed), which is affixed to a document by a string of red, white, green silk thread. The first letters of the invocation are decorated. In Latin, 49 cm x 23,5 + 8 cm, (F 101-7).
The Samogitians were led by a heathen named Daumantas who chose the political road favoured by Vytautas he looked for crusaders’ assistance. The high Vilnius and Trakai functionaries who supported Casimir drew their forces to Kaunas, and wanted to break the Samogitians. Having learnt that Mykolas had ran away to Mazurai and there was no assistance from the crusaders, the Samogitians agreed to negotiate. They insisted upon self-government. Casimir accepted their conditions and confirmed the privilege. Only Vytautas’ hunting grounds remaind under him. According to the privilege the Samogitians were to maintain the estates Vytautas. Casimir confirmed all the gifts effected by Vytautas, Svitrigaila and Zygimantas to noblemen Casimir promised not to sent his functionaries and bailiffs across the Nevezis River. The Samogitians were given the right to elect their functionaries and monitors upon Casimir’s approval. Casimir’s privilege was confirmed by Aleksandras (1492), Zygimantas the Old (1507) and later Zygimantas Augustas and Zigmantas Vaza who added new freedoms.
In 1602 the first monastery was established in Kretinga. Jonas Karolis Khodkevichius settled the Franciscans.
In Kraziai in 1616 a college was founded. It was the most important religious and culturel center of the Jesuits in Samogitia.
In 1622 Bishop Stanislovas Kiska who earlien sent his students to Vilnius had a seminary built in Varniai. The pupils were put under the Jesuits’ guardianship. However, seminary was moved to Kraziai because it was more convenient for the Jesuits to teach the pupils near their own college. The new beautiful wooden seminary was built c. 1744 Bishop A.Tiskevicius who moved eight students from Kraziai. In 1864 upon the pressure of the Russian authorities the seminary was transferred to Kaunas.
In 1654 the Swedes occupied and devastated Samogitia.
After the Great Plague in 1710-1711 many villages were left empty. Samogitia lost almost two thirds of its inhabitants.
In 1795 after the third partition of the Republic, Samogitia was ceded to Russia.
On 19 November, 1886 it was the first mass Samogitian resistance against Russian intention to add Orthodox features to Catholic churches of Lithuania.
When the Russian authorities asked the Samogitian bishop to close the church, monastery and priest asylum in Kestaiciai the people resisted the closing of the church. For six weeks, days and nights, they kept a vigil at the church and drove away Russian official. Then the Governor decided to use military force and to lead the operation by himself. For this purpose three Cossack squadrons were brought from Telðiai. The Cossacks with the help of sabres and whips dispersed the defenders from churchyard The other defenders stayed inside the church singing hymns. Then the Governor ordered the Cossacks to invade upon the church filled with people and to drive them away by force. The people kneeled arms in arms sang song and refusing to surrender. The Cossacks attacked the defenders one by one and drive them outside the church. Struggle around the church began and one could hear sounds of resistance and screams inside the church. The people driven out from the church were beaten and were bought to Telðiai prison in the evening. Among arrested people there were some women. On gaining the upper hand the church’s sacred things were brought to Telðiai and the Cossack began to ruin the church. They hacked with axes the altar, crosses, pulpit, confessionals, roadside pole with a statuette of a saint, broke the paintings and tried to ruin the tower and tear down the roof, but not finished their job left together with Governor.
On 21-22 November in 1893 the Kraziai slaughter took place. The Russian authorities aimed to close the Kraziai church and the Samogitians detachments were on duty all the time and the Raseiniai executor was not able to close the church. In the night of 22 November the Kaunas Governor M.Klingenberg came to close the church by himself. People didn’t listen to the Governor’s words, then he with 70 gendarmes he began to drive them out of the church. The defenders suffered a lot, but did resist. Only in the morning with the assistance of 300 Cossacks who came from Varniai the defenders were won. Nine defenders were killed, 44 were seriously wounded, about 150 were imprisoned.
On 16 February of 1932 the museum Alka was established in Telðiai.
On 25, June 1941 73 political prisoners were tortured to death by the bolsheviks in the Rainiai woods, there were the sons of Samogitia.
In 1991 the consecrated Rainiai chapel was built – it is a monument to remain nation tortments.
On 25 May, 1991 the first congress of Samogitian cultural association was arranged.
In the pictures:
The First Ethnographical Museum in Samogitia (1812)
The act of donation.The Grand Duke of Lithuania donates for the elder of Samogitia, John Kæsgailaitis three estates in Samogitia.
From the treasures of Alka museum.
© Samogitian Cultural
Association Editorial Board, 1998.