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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe


Samogitians (Zemaitija) (Balts)

The Samogitians were Lithuanian lowlanders who lived in what is now the centre and west of the modern state of Lithuania. They are otherwise known as Zhemaits or, more correctly, Žemaits with an accented 'z', and possibly not the same as the Sambians (Zembs). This is the Baltic form of their name, although the international spelling of Samogitians is better known. They were neighboured by the equally tough Semigallians, both lying between the Lithuanians and the Lats in what is now southern Latvia and western Lithuania. The Couronians lay to the immediate west, occupying the coastal area.

The territory of the Samogitians became a duchy called Samogitia (or Žemaitija) and retained a high level of autonomy until the Union of Poland-Lithuania, Ruthenia, Livonia, and Samogitia was effected in 1569. Samogitia is now a region in north-western Lithuania.

(Additional information by Leitgiris Living History Club, and from External Links: The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it), and Leitgiris.)


The Balts have come a long way towards producing contemporarily-modern feudal states. The largest or most powerful castle with a town has become the military and administrative centre for the tribal district. Five 'states' had already existed in the Couronian lands to be chronicled in the 870s by Rimbert. Now, at the beginning of the thirteenth century there are eight 'states' or districts with their own centres, each of which has several villages ('castellatura'). A similar pattern of separate districts pertains for all the other Baltic tribes. The more powerful feudal 'kings' extend their rule over two, three, four, or more districts. These 'kings' or chieftains possess the largest of all the castles. The most influential of them are called 'rex' or 'dux' or 'princeps' by chroniclers. The chronicles enumerate the names of the chieftains and even those of their subordinates. Power and land ownership are inherited.

The hierarchical structure of chieftainship is illustrated by the Chronicle of Volynia, which relates how twenty-one Lithuanian dukes come to sign the treaty of 1219 between Lithuania and the Rus of Halych-Volynia. Of these, five - the most powerful amongst their number - are 'grand dukes', while the other sixteen are dukes of minor importance. From this it may be deduced that Lithuania is now ruled by a confederation of the most powerful chieftains. It is quite possible that such a system of government is also in existence in the other Baltic states and has been for some time.


Vetseke of Koknese gives half of his territory to Bishop Albert of Riga in return for protection against the duchy of Samogitia and the principality of Polotsk. The ruler of the Samogitians is presumed to be Dangeruther at this time, a relative of Mindaugas of Lithuania, although there are no firm dates at all for the state until 1214.

? - 1214


fl 1230s


Possibly shared power for a time with Vykintas.

c.1236 - 1251

Vykintas / Vykynt

Died 1261.

1236 - 1238

As soon as the Germans had began building their castles along the River Nemunas, they had met well-organised resistance from the Lithuanians. The Order of the Knights of the Sword are decimated by the Samogitians and Semigallians at the Battle of Schaulen (Saule or Šiauliai), thereby allowing the Lithuanians to consolidate their territories and form a single state.

Sarmogitia on a map
Early Samogitia is shown on this old map, clearly differentiated from Lithuania proper and resting on the shores of Mare Sarmaticum (the Baltic Sea)


The Samogitians become vassals of the all-powerful creator of the Lithuanian state, King Mindaugas.

c.1240 - 1248

Dausprungas / Dovsprynk

Vassal of Lithuania.


Polotsk becomes a vassal of the rapidly rising power of Lithuania under its grand duke, Mindaugas. The soon-to-be ruler of the subject Samogitians, Tautvila, controls the city and its remaining lands.

1248 - 1250?


In Brest, Grodno & Smolensk.

c.1248 - 1263

Tautvila / Tovtivil

Son of Dausprungas. In Polotsk from 1242. Killed.

1248 - 1249

Mindaugas commands Tautvilas, Edivydas, and Vykintas of the subject Samogitians to capture the Rus principality and city of Smolensk. They are promised with being able to keep what they conquer. The prince of Moscow, Mikhail Khorobrit, is defeated and killed on the banks of the River Protva, but they in turn are defeated by the resurgent Sviatoslav III of Vladimir-Suzdal.

Mindaugas subsequently seizes their land and property, with the three failed would-be conquerors fleeing to Daniel of Galicia (Halych) in 1249 (he is Tautvilas' brother-in-law). The four of them form a powerful coalition with the main body of Samogitians, along with the Livonian Order, and Vasilko of Volhynia to oppose Mindaugas. He, however, outmanoeuvres them both militarily and politically by agreeing terms with Riga and the Order so that he will be crowned king.

1253 - 1254

Mindaugas is crowned king of Lithuania, subsequently transferring part of the Samogitian territories to the Livonian Knights as a means of ensuring peace. Daniel of Galicia (Halych) and Tautvilas of the Samogitians both recognise him in 1254 and come to terms. The latter is given Polotsk to command in return for accepting peaceful terms.


At the end of a two year truce, the eager Samogitians inflict a defeat on the Livonian Knights at the Battle of Skuodas under the leadership of Treniota, nephew of the Lithuanian king, Mindaugas. Their success encourages the Semigallians to rebel against the rule of the Knights.

1260 - 1263

The Samogitians inflict a severe defeat on a joint army of Livonian Knights and Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Durbe in 1260 (now in south-western Latvia). Mindaugas is encouraged by Treniota to support the resulting rebellions against Teutonic rule, and Treniota organises military campaigns into Livonia until his own position has been strengthened. Then in 1263 he assassinates his uncle, returns the Lithuanians to paganism and takes over their governance. Tautvila is killed by Treniota.

1263 - 1264


Son of Vykintas. Usurped Lithuanian throne (1263) & Polotsk.


Treniota's brief - pagan - reign of Lithuania is ended by the late Mindaugas' younger son, Vaisvilkas. He too reigns only briefly, although for three times as long as the treacherous Treniota.

c.1265 - 1267


In Nalse.

1267 - 1270


1270 - 1275


c.1280 - 1294

Pukuveras / Butvydas

in Eiragola. Became ruler of Lithuania (1291-1294).

1294 - 1341

Pukuveras' accession to the Lithuanian throne unites Samogitia to the crown on a permanent basis. The son of Pukuveras rules both as a single political entity.

1341 - 1382

Kestutis / Kiejstut

Brother of Algirdas of Lithuania. Usurped the throne in 1381.


While Grand Duke Jagiello of Lithuania is away, attempting to reinforce his brother's rule in Polotsk, his uncle, Kestutis, removes him from the throne, triggering the Lithuanian Civil War (1381-1384). Jagiello manages to win back control over the country.

1382 - 1390


Son of Jagiello. Governor. Later regent of Kyiv in 1393.


With King Jagiello's conversion to Christianity, as part of his accession to the Polish throne, Lithuania becomes the last state in Europe to end its pre-Christian paganism, although the Samogitians are not converted until after the battle of Tannenberg in 1410.

1390 - 1398

Vytautas / Witold the Great

Governor. Became grand duke of Lithuania (1401-1430).

1398 - 1411

The duchy is briefly conquered by the Teutonic Knights, but the Samogitians refuse to surrender. The duchy is recovered by Lithuania after the Knights are defeated at the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410.

Battle of Tannenberg
The Battle of Tannenberg (or Grunwald) witnessed the shock defeat of the Teutonic Knights at the hands of a Polish-Lithuanian army and destroyed their authority in the Baltics

Elders of Samogitia
AD 1411 - 1795

Following the recovery of Samogitia by the Lithuanians in 1411, the title of duke was held by the grand prince of Lithuania himself. The duchy was ruled by local government which was placed under the control of an elective elder (zhemaitija), who was elected by the Samogitian nobility and was under Lithuanian suzerainty. His seat of power was at Raseniai. The 'eldership' was much smaller than the previous Samogitian territory. It now formed the westernmost third or so of traditional Samogitia, but now with access to the Baltic Sea between the bishopric of Courland and Prussia.

1411 - 1412

Rumbaudas Valimantaitis Kesgaila

Died 1432.


Following incorporation into the Lithuanian state, the pagan Samogitians finally accept Christianity, becoming the last Europeans to do so.

1412 - 1451

Mykolas Valimantaitis Kesgaila


The Teutonic Knights officially cede Samogitia to Lithuania under the terms of the Treaty of Melno.

1451 - 1485

Jonas Kesgaila



The election of Jonas is opposed by Daumantas.



Rival for the eldership.

1486 - 1526

Stanislovas Janavicius

Son of Jonas.


Stanislovas signs a peace agreement with Ivan III of Moscow. Ivan's daughter, Helen, is married to the weak Alexander of Lithuania. The marriage does not protect Alexander from the looming threat of war against Moscow.


Lithuania, Ruthenia and Samogitia begin their defensive wars against the grand duchy of Moscow.

1527 - 1532

Stanislovas Stanislovaitis Janavicius


1532 - 1534

Petras Kiska

1535 - 1542

Jan / Jonas Radvila

1542 - 1543

Motiejus Vaitkevicius-Janavicius

1543 - 1544

Jurgis Bilevicius

1545 - 1561

Jeronimas Kotkevicius

1561 - 1564

Grzegorz Kotkevicius

Died 1572.

1564 - 1579

Jan / Jonas Kotkevicius


The Union of Poland-Lithuania, Ruthenia, Livonia, and Samogitia is effected, establishing the Commonwealth of Poland. King Sigismund becomes king of a united Poland and Lithuania. From this point forward, Lithuania's fate is tied to that of Poland.

1409 Lithuanian uprising in Samogitia
The 1409 Lithuanian uprising in Teutonic-held Samogitia was a thing of the past by this time, when the region was firmly integrated into the new union which covered a huge area


Mikolaj Talwosz

Died 1598.

1579 - 1588

Jan / Jonas Kiska

Died 1592.

1589 - 1590

Mykolas Narusevicius

Died 1603.

1590 - 1595

Jurgis Kotkevicius

1595 - 1599

Stanislovas Radvila

1599 - 1615

Jan / Jonas Karolis Kotkevicius

Son of Jonas Kotkevicius. Died 1621.

1615 - 1619

Adomas Tolvaisas

Died 1628.

1619 - 1636

Jeronimas Valavicius

Died 1641.


The Polish Commonwealth defeats a major attempt by the Ottoman empire to enter and conquer its territory when former elder of Samogitia, Jonas Karolis Kotkevicius, holds the fortress of Chocim in the path of the advancing 200,000-strong Turkish army. The first snows of winter force the Ottomans to withdraw in defeat.

1636 - 1646

Jan / Jonas Alfonsas Lackis

1646 - 1647

Aleksandras Narusevicius

Died 1653.

1647 - 1653

Jan / Jonas Radvila

Died 1655.

1653 - 1668

Jurgis Karolis Glebavicius

Died 1669.

1668 - 1669

Aleksandras Hiliaris Palubinski

Died 1679.

1669 - 1670

Stanislovas Vincentas Orda

1670 - 1678

Viktorinas Konstantas Mlecka

1678 - 1681

Stanislovas Vincentas Orda


1681 - 1682

Kazimieras Jonas Povilas Sapiega

Died 1720.

1682 - 1684

Stanislovas Vincentas Orda

Restored for a second time. Died 1689.

1684 - 1696

Petras Mykolas Pacas

1696 - 1698

Vilhelmas Eustachijus Grotuzas

Died 1708.

1698 - 1709

Grigalius Antanas Oginski

1709 - 1710

Aleksandras Juozas Unikovski

Died 1722.

1710 - 1729

Kazimieras Zareneckas-Horbovski

1729 - 1736

Jurgis Kryspinas-Kirsensteinas

1736 - 1754

Juozas Tiskevicius

1754 - 1765

Juozas Pacas

1765 - 1781

Jan / Jonas Mikalojus Kotkevicius

1781 - 1795

Antanas Gelgudas Kotkevicius


The joint kingdom of Poland-Lithuania is extinguished and Lithuania (and Samogitia as a part of the Lithuanian state) is taken entirely by the Russian empire. Today the former duchy forms the southern-central region of Latvia, while portions of its southern territory are now part of Lithuania.

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