From Metapedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Vilnius (Polish: Vilna) was the chief town of the ancient Duchy of Lithuania and is today the capital city of Lithuania. In 1875 it had a population of 65,000[1], and in 2022 it was 540,775[2]. Vilnius is the second-largest city in the Baltic states. It is the seat of Lithuania's national government and the Vilnius District Municipality.

In 1858 the population of the province of Vilna (including the city) was (estimates) 857,000, of whom: 386,000 were Lithuanian, 212,000 Poles, 178,000 Russians, 77,000 Jews, 900 Germans, et al. In October 2020, Vilnius's functional urban area, which stretches beyond the city limits, according to the Vilnius territorial health insurance fund, there were 732,421 permanent inhabitants in Vilnius city and Vilnius district municipalities combined.[3]


The historian Romas Batūra identifies the city with Voruta, one of the fortresses of Mindaugas, who was Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1253. During the reign of Grand Dukes Butvydas and Vytenis, a town began emerging from what was a small trading settlement. Following the adoption of Christianity by Lithuania, between 1387 and 1413, the first Franciscan Roman Catholic church was built here. After Lithuania was forced into a confederation by Poland, Vilnius remained Lithuania's capital.[4]

The town was first mentioned in written sources in the 12th century, and in 1323 as Vilna,[5] when the letters of Grand Duke Gediminas were sent to German cities inviting Germans (including German Jews) to settle in the capital city, as well as to Pope John XXII. These letters contain the first unambiguous reference to Vilnius as the capital;[4] Old Trakai Castle had been the earlier seat of the court of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.


In 1386 Lithuania's Grand Duke Jagiello married Hungarian Princess Jadwiga, heiress to the crown of Poland, and in 1401 the Royal Union of Vilna was sealed, creating a loose union, generally one of military support, between the two nations. Numerically, with others, this would be very effective in defeating the Teutonic Knights in 1410. In 1569 Lithuania was forced into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (See that page). A famine destroyed more than 30,000 of Vilna's inhabitants in 1710, and in 1715 the town was almost entirely destroyed by fire. The history of Lithuania remained that of the Kingdom of Poland until its Third Partition when it was incorporated into the Russian Empire. Lithuania was then divided into the "North West Provinces" of Vilna, Grodno, Kovno, and Minsk, with the White Russian provinces of provinces of Mohilef and Vitebsk.[6]


Vilna was occupied by Napoleon's Army on 28 June 1812, the Russians having evacuated during the previous night. Napoleon occupied rooms in the Episcopal Palace (which the Tsar Alexander I had also left the previous day), and remained there for 17 days instead of rapidly pursuing the retreating Russians. Vilna is also best known as the place from which Napoleon on his retreat from his disastrous invasion of Russia quitted in disguise his army, which had been reducd to the condition of a "rabble train, without force - a mere fugitive band." Notwithstanding that large military stores had been laid up there, the French were unable to hold Vilna, and retired after pillaging the magazines and leaving behind 20,000 sick and wounded in the hospitals. On 10 December 1812, at Ponari, 5 miles from Vilna, they abandoned five million francs which they were no longer able to convoy. When the Tsar Alexander re-entered the town on December 22nd he found in one hospital alone "7500 dead bodies piled like pigs of lead one above the other."[7]


Vilna, the city of 37 churches, during World War I.
Lithuanian troops liberate Vilnius from Polish occupation on 19 September 1939.

The political vicissitudes to which these provinces were subjected to and the mixed nature of their population afforded a fertile and disastrous source of disagreement between the Russians and the Poles, virtually all these provinces being claimed by the Poles, who carried out an insurrection in 1831, following which the University of Vilna (established in 1803) was closed, and a revolution at Warsaw in 1862. The repressive measures of Russia's General Count Mikhail Nikolayevich Muravyov (wounded at the battle of Borodino), Governor of Grodno, in 1863-64 were directed from his headquarters in Vilna. The leaders of the revolution were removed to Vilna where they were incarcerated, tried, hanged or shot. The subsequent reduction of the population of these provinces took place by deportation to distant parts of the Empire is variously estimated at between 50,000 and 100,000 people, and landed properties of the exiles confiscated.[8]


Following the defeat of Russia in World War I the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 gave Lithuania her independence again as a sovereign State. This independence was confirmed at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. However, the new resurrected Poland then invaded and annexed the province and city of Vilna.[9][10] Despite the protestations of the Lithuanians and the League of Nations the Poles remained in possession until September 1939 when the city was liberated and returned to Lithuania.

Notables from Vilnius

  • Józef Klemens Piłsudski (1867-1935), the famous Polish brigand, military leader, and later Head of State for the new Polish Republic, was born in his family's farm house near the village of Zalavas in Vilna province, in the Russian Kingdom of Poland.
  • Felix Dzerzhinski (1877-1926) (sometimes spelt Dzierjinski), the notorious and murderous Polish Bolshevik and head of the Cheka was born on his parents' 400 acre farm in the district of Oszmiany in Vilna province, in the Russian Kingdom of Poland.[11]


  1. Murray, John, Russia, Poland, and Finland, Third revised edition, London, 1875, p.85.
  3. Vilniaus teritorinė ligonių kasa - Prisirašiusių gyventojų skaičius (lt-LT).
  4. 4.0 4.1 Vilniaus istorija (lt).
  5. (2003) Chartularium Lithuaniae res gestas magni ducis Gedeminne illustrans – Gedimino laiškai. Vilnius: Leidykla Vaga. 
  6. Murray, 1875, p.86-7.
  7. Murray, 1875, p.86-7.
  8. Murray, 1875, p.86.
  9. Nitti, Francesco S., former Prime Minister of Italy, The Decadence of Europe, London, 1922, p.181.
  10. Powell, E. Alexander, Embattled Borders, London, 1928, p.266-7.
  11. Jaxa-Ronikier, B., The Red Executioner Dzierjinski, Denis Archer pubs., London, Jan 1935, p.43.