The Gediminids: Dynastic Stages of the Great Way

Ihor Danylov, Director of the Private Tourist Information and Services Center "The Gediminids Way," Kamyanets-Podilsky, Ukraine


The essay makes a short excursion into the history of western and south-western lands of Ancient Rus from the second half of the 13th century to the early 15th c., their inclusion in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL), and development of the Gediminids' grand-duke dynasty on these lands. This development goes on as the Volyn-Halych Principality and its princely/royal dynasty of the Romanids and Rurikids are dying away. The dramatic process of struggle for the vacated Volyn-Halych heritage among Poland, Hungary, Moldova, the Golden Horde, Teutonic Knights and the GDL ends in a triumph of the latter. Although the outcome of the struggle was not clear at its beginning, the victory of Duke Gedimin's heirs over other pretenders is due to the following substantial preferences, both objective and subjective.

First, according to sources, the Orthodox Gediminids were at least half Rurikids by blood. Second, Lithuanian dukes did not impose their way of being on lands and towns annexed to the GDL but rather kept their age-long social, cultural and economic status quo. And third, Lithuanian dukes expanded their powers in Rus through sociocultural convergence rather then suppression and coercion. Not suffering from winner's complex, they adopted a variety of best practices of the newly acquired lands for development of their own state, including the legal code of Kyiv Rus, Ruska Pravda of Yaroslav the Wise, on which the GDL based its legal framework. All in all, this allowed the Gediminid dynasty, fast and without conflicts, to become "home dynasty" in Rus, hold both the Catholic West and the Moslem East off Rus, and channel all their passionateness there toward the ongoing process of productive development rather than permanent suppression of discontent hotbeds.

By agency of Providence, the GDL received a unique chance to become a collector of Rus lands into a unified state. And though external factors could not slow down and stop this process, it was eventually discontinued by counterproductive fight for precedence inside the dynasty itself.

The whole essay is available on our site in Ukrainian and Russian.