Samogitia (Zemaitija)SAMOGITIA (ZEMAITIJA)

Samogitia region
From the History of Samogitia

Samogitia Region

  • The westernmost region was first mentioned in records in the 13th century. The people here are well known for their industriousness. A large number of jokes also testify to their stubbornness.
  • One of the former capitals of the area, Telsiai, is a pleasant, quiet town situated on the edge of a lake. The “Alka” Museum in the town records the archaeology, history, flora and fauna of the area and of the country as a whole. It also holds a rare and impressive collection of Lithuanian and Western Europe art.
  • There are other museums in the region, covering folklore, rural life, various local writers and artists, and a museum to the culture of former country estates.
  • The lake at Plateliai lies at the heart of a national park and is very popular in summer. It is studded with large and small islands and shrouded in mysteries and legends. One of these tells of a secret sunken wooden platform that enabled the inhabitants of a castle on an island to escape to the shore. Recent archaeological investigations have revealed that such a structure did indeed once exist…
  • Zemaitija is well known for its dairy produce and is the origin of kastinis, a savory milk product.
  • The region is also famous for the Zemaitukai horse, short but strong and energetic. A few years ago it was close to extinction, but now its numbers are increasing again.
  • People from Zemaitija are notoriously slow to accept change, but once they accept it they embrace it fully. Zemaitian pagans were the last people in the Baltic region to accept Christianity, but now, true to form, they are among the most devoted followers of it.

From "Lithuania in the World", No. 2, 1998

From the History of Samogitia

  • In the 13th century the territory of Samogitia was already united and centralized. (…)

  • During the time of the creation of the Lithuanian state (Grand Duchy of Lithuania) the chief Samogitian duke, Vykintas, became a powerful rival for Mindaugas, the unifier of all the Lithuanian lands and future king of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

  • Although Mindaugas managed to defeat Vykintas, Samogitia was only partly conquered. For many centuries this land remained distinctive and independent. Even though the Samogitians won the battles of Saule (1236) and Durbe (1260) and for some time the Crusaders did not threaten them, at the end of the 13th century the Order began repeated attacks against them. (…)

  • Later the whole of Samogitia turned into a battlefield. The Order tried to conquer it to unite its lands in Prussia and Livonia. (…)

  • Samogitia, with the support of the Lithuanian grand dukes, first of all Vytenis, Gediminas and Kestutis, held out. (…)

  • At the end of the 14th century Samogitia, at the will of the grand dukes, became an object which could be exchanged or given as a present for political services. More than once Jogaila (Jagiello) and Vytautas offered it to the Order. The Samogitians could not accept this and defended their land.

  • The Crusaders managed to conquer Samogitia, in 1400-1404 and 1406-1409. Both times it ended in powerful rebellions. After the Battle of Zalgiris the baptism in Samogitia began in 1413. (…)

  • The same year the autonomy of Samogitia was legalized. Lithuania was divided into provinces, and Samogitia became a self-governing district, which was later known as the Duchy of Samogitia. The governors of the provinces were appointed by the grand duke and local noblemen elected elders.

  • By removing Samogitian dukes from power in the 13th century, Lithuanian rulers intervened in the social and economic development of the province. For this and other reasons Samogitia had an unusual social system. In the late 14th century, when the population of eastern Lithuania consisted mainly of noblemen and their serfs, free peasants mostly inhabited Samogitia.

  • Vytautas took decisive action to try to change the social structure in Samogitia. Despite this, thanks to opposition from the peasants, serfdom in Samogitia was not as widespread and severe as in Aukstaitija (the largest region covered the north, east and middle of the country). Many peasants remained free. (…)

  • Maybe the last manifestation of Samogitia’s particular character was the cultural movement which started at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1795, after the annexation of Samogitia and the greater part of Lithuania by Russia, many of its social, economic and political features began to die out. Samogitia gradually turned into distinctive ethnic region of Lithuania.

Prepared Danute Mukiene and Arvydas Gelzinis

Samogitian Cultural Association Editorial Board, 2000
Samogitian Museum ALKA, 2000

Last update 2013.03.27