Olgierd’s Reign in Vitebsk

Vasilii Voronin
Candidate of Historical Sciences (Ph.D. in History),
Associate Professor, Belarusian State University (Belarus, Minsk),
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DOI: https://doi.org/10.15407/ul2013.02.021 

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Olgierd (Algirdas) figured in history as one of the most prominent and successful grand dukes of Lithuania. Indeed, this man was endowed with many talents acknowledged even by his opponents. However, the climb of Olgierd to supreme power in the Duchy was long and complicated. As to the beginning of his political and military activity it was associated with the Belarusian city of Vitebsk.

Referring to the available sources, the author thoroughly examined the question of Olgierd’s reign in Vitebsk. Apparently, the appearance of Olgierd in the city on the Dvina River actually stemmed from his marriage to the daughter of the local prince. However, there are serious doubts about the name of the princess (Maria) and the date of the marriage (1318), which are still widely accepted in historic literature. By all appearances, Olgierd gained a footing in Vitebsk as a result of Lithuanian military pressure on that city.

However, this conclusion does not contradict to the contraction of a dynastic marriage which opened the door to Olgierd’s power in Vitebsk principality. There are evidences of sources that for some time Algirdas resided in a small town of Usvyat in the north of Vitebsk land. Despite the long reign in the Christian principality, Algirdas all that time remained a pagan and maintained close ties with Lithuania. Among his major achievements as the prince of Vitebsk was the construction of stone fortifications in the city.

Already during his Vitebsk reign Olgierd developed energetic activities in the north and north-east Russia. These activities particularly increased in 1341. At first Olgierd campaigned against the Livonian Germans to help Pskov and then at the request of Smolensk Prince Ivan made a campaign in the Muscovy Mozhaisk.

Along with the Vitebsk, Olgierd also owned a small principality of Kreva, received as an inheritance from his father, Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania. This was a very important part of the domains of Olgierd. Probably, from there he recruited the «Lithuania», which is so often mentioned in Russian chronicles with the relation to his campaigns in Russia. Namely during Olgierd’s reign in Vitebsk the Lithuanian population appeared. In all likelihood, the Polish settlement also appeared resulting from Olgierd’s activity. The latter included the captives of Olgierd’s campaigns in the Polish lands. For example, it is known that in the 1530-ies Olgierd and his brothers carried out a series of successful campaigns in Mazovia.



Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Olgierd, Vitebsk, annals.



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