The biggest of all the Baltic states, Lithuania is a nation located in the northeastern area of Europe. As of 2019, Lithuania plays home to 2.8 million citizens. From the 14thto the 16th centuries, the country was part of an empire that reached the eastern borders of the continent.
1. The true meaning behind the name “Lithuania” remains unknown.
The first recorded use of the country’s name in Latinized form “Litua” was in March 1009, when the Quedlinburg Chronicle mentioned the nation in a story featuring Saint Bruno. This is as far as the investigations go since no other document provides further evidence of where the country got its name, an interesting fact about Lithuania.
Some researchers, however, suggest that the name might have come from the river Lietava. This is found in Kernave, which is said to be the first capital of the then-Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Another researcher who goes by the name of Artūras Dubonis suggests that the country’s name may have been taken from the word leičiai, which is a Lithuanian social warrior group. This hypothesis is drawn up from the fact that the word leičiai was widely used to denote Lithuanians during the 14th to 16th centuries.
2. Lithuania was first occupied during the 10th millennium BC.
The last glacial period saw the settling of the Narva, Neman, and Kunda tribes in some parts of Lithuania. They were traveling hunters and only settled on the 8th millennium BC when warmer climates fostered forest growth. By the 3rd to 2nd millennium BC, the Indo-Europeans arrived, mingling with the prehistoric inhabitants to create the Baltic tribes.
3. During the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the biggest nation in Europe.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania developed out of a struggle for power in the country. By 1230, Mindaugas managed to unite the Baltic tribes, and such an act earned him the kingship of Lithuania.
Despite being a constant target during the Crusades, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania flourished. They even overtook the lands of the Kievan Rus – the state of those who sacked them mercilessly centuries before. By the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest state in Europe, occupying parts of modern-day Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Ukraine.
4. The Baltic nation was the last of the Pagan European countries to convert to Christianity.
Grand Duke Jogaila’s rise to the Duchy throne – and his eventual rule of Poland – paved the way for Lithuania’s conversion to Christianity. Such took place in 1387, where Jogaila (who became Władysław II Jagiełło), and his cousin, Vytautas the Great, signed the country’s adoption of the Christian religion, a fun Lithuania fact.
The first nobles and peasants were baptized at Aukštaitija. Parishes were built in many pagan towns, including that of Lida, Kreva, and Medininkai. A few decades later – the Samogitians – became the last tribe to be Christianized in the country, some even by Vytautas himself.
In 1389, Lithuania was declared a Roman Catholic State by Pope Urban VI.
5. In 1569, the country became part of the two-state personal union named the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The Union of Lublin saw the creation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It peaked in the 17th century, with the commonwealth successfully defending itself from Swedish, Russian, and Ottoman raids. From 1610 to 1612, the Lithuanians even managed to take Moscow.
The commonwealth began to crumble in 1655 when the capital of Vilnius was ransacked by the Russian army. The Swedish, too, gained a stronghold of Lithuania. By 1661, both the Russians and the Swedish had control of most of the country. Plagues, famine, and the Great War followed suit, which made it difficult for the commonwealth to rise once again.
6. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth’s Constitution of 3 May 1791 is the second-oldest government charter.
With the state in shambles, the Great Sejm’s (parliament) last-ditch attempt was to craft the Constitution of 3 May 1791. It introduced a constitutional monarchy and provided equality between the nobles and the townsmen, a fun fact about Lithuania. It also protected the peasants from the widespread abuses of serfdom. Finally, it gave the people the right to revoke any legislation passed by the Great Sejm.
7. The commonwealth was divided amongst the Russians, Prussians, and the Habsburgs by the late 18th century.
After the division, most of Lithuania went to the hands of the Russians. Under such ruling, the Lithuanian press was banned and while many schools and cultural institutions were closed. The attempt to suppress learning failed though, as many Lithuanians smuggled books and underwent homeschooling.
8. After World War II, the Soviets captured Lithuania yet again.
Germans occupied Lithuania during World War II, but it was not long before the Soviets managed to regain control of the country once again. Under communist rule, national symbols were banned. Russians were encouraged to migrate to Lithuania to help further integrate the country into the Soviet Union.
9. In 1990, it became the first Baltic country to declare itself independent from Soviet Rule.
Many patriotic Lithuanians fought for the country’s independence, but the most successful method proved to be the most peaceful way. In 1989, the Sąjūdis, or the Reform Movement of Lithuania, staged the Baltic Way. This was a 370 mile-long human chain that aimed to showcase the Baltic states’ desire to break free from Soviet Rule, an interesting fact about Lithuania.
By March 11, 1990, Lithuania became the first state to announce its independence. It was not without retaliation from the Soviets, who imposed an economic blockade on the country. Citizens managed to defend the country peacefully, even with the threat of armed Russian armies.
By 1993, the Soviets finally left the country to rule on its own.
10. Lithuania was one of the first countries that granted women the right to vote.
A forward-thinking nation, Lithuania granted its women the right to vote in 1919, following the drafting of the country’s 1918 Constitution. It gave the opportunity the same time the Netherlands did. An interesting Lithuania fact is that it even edged out other democratic countries, including the United States (1920), France (1945), and Greece (1952).
Despite the violence shown by its Soviet occupants, the Lithuanian people have shown that independence can be attained through peaceful means. This liberal way of thinking has enabled the country to enjoy an advanced economy, a high standard of living, and an impressive Human Development Index score – a mere three decades after it has attained its freedom.
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