lithaz.org: home & art/culture events organizations publications
8/4/2015
Lithuanian legends & lore:
Pilėnai
fall of Pilenai hill-fort

"Pilėnai" by J. Mackonis
photo from jonasmackonis.lt website


In late February of 1336, a large crusader army consisting of Austrian, French, and German contingents and numbering about 6,000 fighters, guided by a force of Teutonic Knights, invaded Lithuanian territory from East Prussia with the goal of destroying the Pilėnai hill-fort, a key part of the Lithuanian defensive line of forts along the Nemunas River. The fort was filled with local residents seeking shelter for their families along with Lithuanian defenders commanded by Margiris, brother of Lithuania's ruler, Grand Duke Gediminas.

Burning and killing as it went, the crusader army reached Pilėnai, surrounded the hill-fort and commenced bombardment to breach the defensive walls. When the defensive walls started to collapse and the fall of the fort became certain, to deny the crusaders booty and captives, choosing death over a life of slavery, the defenders lit a large bonfire, burned all their valuable possessions, killed all their women and children and then killed themselves.

Gaining the inside of the fort, the crusaders were shocked and disappointed to find only the charred remains of bodies and goods and had to return to Prussia empty-handed.

For their bravery and their stubborn refusal to surrender, the names of Margiris and Pilėnai have become legendary and inspirational to succeeding generations of Lithuanians. (Click here to read more legends.)