and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

By David Gemperle


Gediminas ruled the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from 1315 until his death in 1342. During his reign as Grand Duke, Lithuania developed into a strong regional power. Gediminas defended pagan Lithuania against the aggression of the Teutonic Order while expanding the territorial size and commercial activity of the Grand Duchy.

Catholics from the west had sought to convert and rule the Baltic pagans during the decades before Gediminas came to power(Vardys, 9-10). Although Lithuania was well situated for defense, the Teutonic threat controlled neighboring Prussia and Livonia(Rowell, 1). Gediminas appealed to the Pope by describing the Order’s brutality and hinting at his willingness to be baptized(Rowell, 198). These tactics, along with the Pope’s need for allies against the Emperor, allowed Gediminas to acquire a treaty to stop the costly war with the Knights(Rowell, 228).


The Treaty of Vilnius allowed safe passage for Lithuanian and catholic merchants between Vilnius and Livonia’s coastal city of Riga(Rowell, 72). Gediminas took other significant steps to expand trade. He welcomed Jewish, orthodox, and catholic traders by providing them safe settlement and fair treatment. At the same time, Gediminas attempted to encourage unity in Lithuania’s fragmented paganism by building a central temple in Vilnius(Rowell, 72). Tariff reductions and the elimination of commercial taxation also helped make the strategically convenient town of Vilnius an important trading hub(Rowell, 77).

Gediminas expanded the Grand Duchy to include significant territory to the east. He built alliances through the marriages of his children, but also gained territory through battle(Rowell, 87). While conquering territory to the east, Lithuania remained ready for the resumption of war with the Teutonic Order. When fighting did resume Lithuania had gained wealth, important western allies, and eastern territory.


Gediminas never actually converted to Christianity. He used only the possibility of baptism to win papal support for peace and trade. Although the peace was short lived, the new territory and the commercial benefits it brought allowed Lithuania to keep the Order at bay when fighting began again. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania remained pagan despite the immigration that Gediminas encouraged and the conversion that the Order intended to force. Gediminas helped to make Lithuania wealthier, larger, more diverse, and more strategically significant during his reign as Grand Duke.



  • Rowell, S.C. "Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Empire within East-central Europe, 1295-1345" Cambridge University Press, Great Britain 1994

  • Vasdys, V. Stanley and J.B. Sedaitis "Lithuania: The Rebel Nation" Westview Press Boulder, CO 1997





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