BELATED PRAISE FOR KING MINDAUGAS
OF LITHUANIA

       Before the Lithuanian national revival gained momentum in the second half of the nineteenth century, Mindaugas did not receive much attention from Lithuanians. The state of Lithuania had long ceased to exist and many even well-read Europeans failed to recognise its distinctiveness even from so early a time as that of the Union of Lublin, concluded with the Polish Crown in 1569. If the early–modern Lithuanian nobility had any knowledge of Mindaugas at all this was no more than information gleaned from Russian chronicles and similar material from Prussia and Livonia. Among Lithuanian rulers Gediminas (1316–1341) was the last to recall the baptism of Mindaugas and his subsequent desertion from the Catholic camp, but, arguably, even this information could have been passed on to him by the Archbishop of Riga, Frederick von Pernstein (1304–1341). When Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania (1392–1430) came to aspire for a royal crown in 1429–1430, he neither referred to King Mindaugas, nor was willing to recognise him as one of his predecessors. An indirect witness to this view is provided by representatives of the Polish King Władysław II Jogaila (1386–1434, and Supreme Duke of Lithuania), when in 1413 he and Vytautas conducted negotiations with the Teutonic Order’s representatives concerning the frontier between the Ordensstaat and Žemaitija (Samogitia). In the seventeenth century the Jesuit Albertas Vijūkas-Kojalavičius (W. Kojałłowicz 1609–1677), who was a prominent historian and also rector of Vilnius University, gave a clear expression in his Latin “Lithuanian History” to the view that the roots of the country’s current calamities (mid-seventeenth-century Russian and Swedish invasions, the Cossack revolt led by Bogdan Khmelnitsky) had already been planted in the times of Mindaugas, when “the seed of internal discord among the Lithuanians had been sown”. Only in the second half of the nineteenth century did the Lithuanian national revival movement recall Mindaugas from oblivion. The first academic study devoted to Mindaugas and written by a Lithuanian scholar, came from the pen of Father Jonas Totoraitis: he defended his doctoral thesis at Freiburg University (Switzerland) and in 1905 published it as Die Litauer unter dem König Mindowe bis zum Jahre 1263. About this time a prominent Lithuanian philologist, Kazimieras Būga reconstructed a Lithuanian form for Mindaugas’s name which superseded the previously used Mandagus or Mindaugis. Only some ten years ago a Lithuanian historian named Edvardas Gudavičius advanced the opinion that the coronation of Mindaugas must have taken place on 6 July 1253, and now this date has become a national holiday in modern Lithuania. In 2003 the people of Lithuania celebrated in a solemn and festive manner the 750th anniversary of the establishemnt of the Lithuanian kingdom and the coronation of Mindaugas. This is how Mindaugas stands in Lithuanian historical consciousness; he has come from almost total oblivion and now has reached the sublime peak of having been the first and only crowned king of Lithuania.
       The contemporaries of Mindaugas treated his personality differently as well, and their opinions fall into two large camps, Russian Orthodox and Livonian Catholic. The former saw in him a ruler who was quick to give bribes and thus to secure allies for himself, while the same procedure in the eyes of the Livonian knights was regarded as royal generosity, a phenomenon of gift-exchange that was so characteristic of relations between honourable rulers. The decisions made by the papal curia for the sake of the state had also had their own considerable price. No exception was made for the king of Lithuania. The Livonian knights did not see anything worthy of condemnation in the fact that the kingdom of Lithuania was being built, as Russians were quick to observe, by means of perfidy, deception and harm, even unto death, that was being done to royal kin. The rule of Mindaugas was epitomized as autocracy in the Russian chronicler’s diatribe. It was, however, quite natural in terms of contemporary politics to spill blood while concentrating one’s monarchical power. At this time St. Thomas Aquinas noted that the theory of state relied on war theory. And wars may be just or unjust. Unjust wars are sinful, but sin could be atoned for by penance. In the eyes of the Livonian authorities Mindaugas was an honest Christian, who kept his promises. At the same time Russians knew all too well that the baptism of the Lithuanian king was false, that he was not averse at sacrificing to the old gods and that he observed pagan rites. In the eyes of Pope Clement IV, Mindaugas remained, however, a ruler of bright memory (clare memorie) who had been killed ruthlessly by the sons of perdition, as was stated in a papal bull of 1268.
       Such is the man whom the sources could not characterize unambiguously and who virtually founded the Lithuanian state. At the outset Mindaugas was one among several powerful Lithuanian princes, who all were distinguished by noble blood, tied together by interlocking system of kinship, and sharing common interests with regard to their neighbours. These interests were not particularly refined: defence against enemies and military raids to their territory. Military campaigns were a rather lucrative source of income in a form of booty and a rather effective means to strive for control over trade routes stretching along the Nemunas and the Daugava rivers. But all this could not satisfy Mindaugas. He opted for monarchical rule. Historical sources underline how Mindaugas sought honour, how proud he was and how intolerant he was to others. He expropriated the princes who had previously been his friends and annexed their patrimonial lands to “his” Lithuania. The old aristocracy was compelled to retreat; those who did not succumb to his rule were killed. The king was remorseless, self-willed, stubborn and consequential in his actions. Within three years by means of diplomacy the king led the Pope to order the consecration of a bishop for Lithuania who was directly subordinate to the Holy See, not the Archbishop of Riga. Mindaugas was open to innovations and was eager to establish closer contacts with Christian Europe. He send off letters addressed to the pope, he discussed the more urgent issues in personal meetings with the Livonian Master of the Teutonic Order. Lithuania became not only one of Europe’s kingdoms, but also a separate ecclesiastical province with a bishop, Christian, subordinate to the Roman See. Mindaugas the Wise! In his letter of 21 August 1253 Pope Innocent IV singled out Mindaugas for his wisdom and pious generosity. Pagan Žemaitijans echoed much in the same tune: “You, who are held to be wise” (The Livonian Rhymed chronicle, line 6397). Their argument was based on some kind of etymological interpretation of the name Mindaugas, a compound of “wisdom” (mintis) and “much” (daug).
       Mindaugas may resemble a well-versed pagan soothsayer in that he was able to forsee the future of Lithuania. His reproaches to his Orthodox son Vaišelga bear witness to the king’s view that he did not see any political assets for Lithuania from the Eastern Orthodox faith. Lithuania had to accede to Western Christendom as a vast Catholic kingdom that would have included many lands of Lithuanians and other Balts. Although Mindaugas had to pay for his roayl diadem with some Lithuanian lands, including Žemaitija, which on this occasion were conceded to the Teutonic Order in Livonia, he actively strove to subjugate other pagans, notably the Yatvingians, to his rule and thus to win them over for the Christian faith. Of such aspirations we are informed from the papal bulls issued by Innocent IV on 17 July 1251 and Alexander IV on 6 March 1255. Lithuania was being prepared to act as a transmitter of the Christian Faith. In those times this may be regarded as one of the major tasks in European politics. And the Kingdom of Mindaugas found itself in the vanguard of this task. The mission of the Teutonic Order in the Baltic region could well have been brought to its end, and the threat to the existence of Lithuanians, Old Prussians, Latvians, and other Balts could well have disappeared as a result. In this way Mindaugas received a weapon against the pretensions of the Teutonic Order with the help of one of its members, Master Andreas von Stirland, whom his Livonian brethren dismissed from office some time later. The problem was that he did not manage to make much use of it.
       The king’s Christian missionary zeal was not acceptable to some of his influential relatives in Lithuania and to a considerable number of warlike pagans in Žemaitija. The floodgate was opened for charges to be laid against him.
       Mindaugas was doomed to be guilty. Treniota, the son of his sister, in company with Žemaitijans, accused Mindaugas of his allegiance to his Christain friends at the expense of Lithuanian lands. In their turn Christians did not see Mindaugas as being active enough in defending the bishop of Lithuania against the pagans with the probable implication being drawn thereby that he was likely to be a sinful Christian. The retreat of Christian Lithuania from the sphere of influence of Galich–Volhynia, a successor-state to Kievan Rus’, was due, according to the opinion of the Russian chronicler, to the criminal-like activities on the part of Mindaugas. The latter was made guilty for his altercations with his Orthodox son Vaišelga, who ultimately became a monk. In the eyes of the Teutonic Order Mindaugas became a scape-goat for refusing to persevere in the Christian Faith. In the seventeenth century he became, as it were, responsible for the decline of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Even in our times, the historian Konstantinas Jablonskis charged Mindaugas “with destruction of the organization of the Lithuanian state”. Is it correct to accept the view that the establishment of the kingdom can be regarded as a crime? It may sound paradoxical, but the very foundations of the kingdom began to crack, in the view of the Russian chronicler, in the wake of Mindaugas’s criminal misdeeds. A woman and unrestrained desire on Mindaugas’s part played their role in the ensuing collapse. After the death of his wife Mindaugas took the wife of prince Daumantas and after a while he fell victim of revenge in quite unexpected circumstances.
       The fate of Mindaugas in terms of human experience was tragic. There can be no line of delimitation drawn between remorseless Mindaugas and the Lithuanian king. Inspired by human vanity he sought in every possible way (and who acted otherwise in those distant times?) to expand his patrimonial lands in Lithuania, to increase his own wealth and fame. But he established the Lithuanian state: a patrimony for himself and a motherland for us. By becoming a kingdom in the middle of the thirteenth century Lithuania received the international recognition on honourable terms. In rank only the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor were superior to kings. The Kingdom however disappeared some time later, but the Lithuanian state survived. The relatives of Mindaugas, Treniota and Tautvilas, could not come to terms as regards the partition of the late Mindaugas’s legacy. By this time the state was so firmly cemented. It became an insurmountable obstacle in that its avaricious neighbours could never assimilate it once and for ever. The Lithuanian state was and is the prerequisite for the survival and well-being of the nation, and the reservoir of its self-consciousness.
       
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       “The Mindaugas book” devoted to the 750th anniversary of the Lithuanian state includes almost all written sources, in Lithuanian translation, which are representative of Mindaugas and his kingdom (chapter II). The selected sources include also such specimens which do not have a direct link to Mindaugas, but they could not be omitted, in the editors’ opinion, because they allow readers to form an idea of how the Lithuanian statehood came into existence at the end of the twelth and the first half of the thirteenth century (chapter I, and part of chapter III). It was a rather difficult task to select the fragments to be translated from the narratives sources: Russian and Latin chronicles. It did not seem necessary to reproduce the texts of Henry of Livonia, Hermann of Wartberge, or of the Ipat’evskaia chronicle in extenso (this would have caused the unreasonable extension of this book and we also bore in mind that a number of these chronicles have been translated into Lithunian already, and the audience interested in Lithuanian history is familiar with them). So we decided to translate rather extensive passages that speak of Lithunians or Lithuania (chapter III). Such information should help one become more familiar with the society of those times, it should help better to understand the motives of rulers, and provide the wider context for the documentary sources such as charters, acta, papal bulls, letters. The book also includes those fragments from the sources of the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries which show how the memory of the Lithuanian kingdom was kept alive and how it came gradually to be obscured in the course of time (chapter IV). Mindaugas, the remorseless ruler, the not-so-good Christian, as he was depicted in the Ipat’evskaia chronicle was the basis for historians who produced their literary work from the second half of the fifteenth century onwards. So chapter V came to include the most authoritative writers beginning with the Polish chronicler Jan Długosz and ending with Albert Vijūkas-Kojalavičius, that is the story of this book stops at the middle of the seventeenth cenury. Amongst them one can find not only the writers from Poland or the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but also the Muscovite and Prussian authors.
       The book also includes the entire text of the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, whose translation into Lithuanian is published here for the first time. We wished to preserve this as a distinct work, so a preface to it is to be found in part two of this book.

Artūras Dubonis

Translated by Darius Baronas

 

[Mindaugo knyga]
 

©Lithuanian Institute of History, April 23, 2005.