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7/12/2015
Lithuanian history:
Vytenis

Grand Duke Vytenis of Lithuania

"Grand Duke Vytenis"
painting by P. Kalpokas

Who ruled Lithuania during the years from the death of Grand Duke Traidenis in 1282 to the rise to power of Vytenis in 1295 is not known. Traidenis' sons Daumantas, Butigeidis, and Pukuveras-Butvydas are strong possibilities. In any case, the rise to power of Vytenis marks the beginning of the most powerful dynasty of Lithuanian rulers. Vytenis was Pukuveras-Butvydas' eldest son.

Vytenis distinguished himself as a very able military leader in campaigns against both Prussian and Livonian branches of the Teutonic Knights and in reclaiming Gardinas, Naugardukas, Slanim, and Volkovisk regions previously captured by Volhynia. He also extended Lithuanian territory into large parts of Baltic Yotvingian tribal regions of Drohichin and Brest previously captured by Polish and Mazovian rulers.

Vytenis had four younger brothers - Gediminas, Vainius, brother whose Lithuanian name is unknown and was later baptized as Theodore, and Margiris. Gediminas turned out to be the most famous of them all, and the one after whom the whole Pukuveras' dynasty is most often named.

The Teutonic Knights continued to expand into Lithuania by building sturdy fortresses of brick and stone along the Nemunas River, Although Lithuanians were often successful in battles in the field, they did not have the required weapons for capturing masonry fortresses defended from the ramparts by well-provisioned garrison troups with crossbows.

In his fight against the Teutonic Knights, however, Vytenis found an important ally in the Archbishop and the citizens of Riga who had their own problems with the Knights: German rule in Livonia was partitioned between the Archbishop of Riga and the Teutonic Knights. The Teutonic Knights bore most of the cost of Livonia's defense and believed that control of Livonia needed to be unified under them. They disputed the archbishop's right to rule parts of Livonia and used political and military pressure to get their way. The Knights also opposed the important trade between Rigans and Lithuanians. At one point Vytenis sent Lithuanian troups for garrison duty in Riga.

In October of 1315 Vytenis gathered an army which included a large contingent of archers and besieged Teutonic Knights' Christmemel castle located farthest east on the Nemunas River. The plan was to fill the moat with lumber and straw and set it on fire and to use stone-hurling machines to breach the castle walls. The plan did not succeed because of heavy casualties caused by defenders' crossbows and the arrival of a relief army of Teutonic Knights. This was Vytenis' last campaign for he died of unknown causes in the winter of 1315/1316. The rule of Lithuania passed to his younger brother Gediminas. (Click here to read more history.)