Duchy of Lithuania

Duchy of Lithuania (Latin: Ducatus Lithuaniae; Lithuanian: Lietuvos kunigaikštystė) was a state-territorial formation of ethnic Lithuanians, that existed from the 13th century[1] until 1413. Most of the time it was a constituent part and a nucleus of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Other alternative names of the territorial formation, used in different periods, were Aukštaitija or Land of Lithuania (13th century), Duchy of Vilnius (14th – early 15th centuries),[2] Lithuania Propria or simply Lithuania (in a narrow sense).

Duchy of Lithuania
Lietuvos kunigaikštystė (lt)
Division of Grand Duchy of Lithuania
13th century–1413

Domain of King Mindaugas (dark yellow) during the times of Kingdom of Lithuania, making up the initial Duchy of Lithuania.
Grand Duke of Lithuania 
 ca. 1236–1263
Historical eraMiddle Ages
13th century
Succeeded by
Vilnius Voivodeship
Today part of Belarus


The formation emerged in the central and eastern part of the present-day Lithuania, known as Aukštaitija, as the Lietuva Land (Lithuanian: Lietuvos žemė). It is supposed to have formed in the central Lithuania on the left bank of the Neris River and swiftly expanded eastwards. This very land was mentioned in 1009 as Litua (see Name of Lithuania). The territory was ruled by chieftains of an ethnic Lithuanian tribe, Aukštaitians or "Lithuanians", in the initial meaning of the name.

After the expansion of the Lithuanian state in the 13th century, when it became known as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Lithuania (1251–1263), the Duchy of Lithuania became an administrative unit, governed by dukes[3] and inherited by dynastic links. The main administrative center of the Duchy until the late 13th century might have been Kernavė.

It is plausible that the Duchy of Lithuania, that became known as the Duchy of Vilnius since the 14th century, was formed of the eastern part of the original Duchy of Lithuania under the rule of Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytenis at the end of the 13th century; its southwestern part was transformed to a separate Duchy of Trakai, under the dominion of Gediminas, who had established himself in the newly constructed Senieji Trakai Castle. It is known for certain that the Duchy of Trakai existed at the beginning of Kęstutis' rule in 1337 as his domain. It was a progenitor of the future Trakai Voivodeship.

The last Duke of Lithuania (Latin: Dux Lithuaniae) was Vytautas the Great, who received it in 1392 from Jogaila as a result of the Astrava Treaty, who in turn had inherited it from his father Algirdas. Since 1397, the Duchy had the status of an Eldership, comparable to that of the Eldership of Samogitia. After the administrative reform of 1413 by Vytautas, based on the Union of Horodło, the Duchy ceased to exist, becoming a part of the newly established Vilnius Voivodeship.

See also


  1. C. Rowell, Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Empire Within East-central Europe, 1295–1345
  2. "Archived copy" (in Lithuanian). Archived from the original on 2007-04-19. Retrieved 2007-05-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. Known as kunigaikštis in Lithuanian, a word derived kunigas, an international word derived from German künig meaning "king"

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