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St. Michael the Archangel Church in Ashmyany
Coat of Arms

Ashmyany (Belarusian: Ашмя́ны; Łacinka: Ašmiany; Russian: Ошмя́ны; Lithuanian: Ašmena; Polish: Oszmiana; Yiddish: אָשמענע‎, Oshmene) is a town in Grodno Region, Belarus, located at 50 km from Vilnius, capital of the Ashmyany raion. It lies in the basin of the Ashmyanka River. It is also known as "Aschemynne" in the chronicles of the Teutonic Knights. It was the birthplace of Lucjan Żeligowski, a renowned Polish general and military commander.


The town and region surrounding modern Ashmyany was once within the ethnic Lithuanian territory.[1] During the 17th and 18th centuries, a lot of local Lithuanians died from war and famine, and Slavic colonists grew in population.[1] With time Lithuanians were outnumbered by Slavs. Presently, its Lithuanian past is sealed in the towns's name, which is of Lithuanian origin.[2] Town's name derivative from river name Ašmena (modern Ashmyanka River), which is originated from appellative Lithuanian word akmuo (stone).[2] The link between consonants š and k is old and echoed in Lithuanian words, respectively ašmuo (sharp blade) and akmuo (stone).[2] The present name Ashmyany uses the plural form of the name and is a modern invention, as through the ancient town's history, its name was recorded in Lithuanian singular form.[2]


The first reliable mentioning of Ashmyany (in the Lithuanian Chronicles) tells that after the death of Gediminas in 1341 the town was inherited, among other places, by Jaunutis. In 1384, the Teutonic Knights attempted to attack Ashmyany as a beginning attempt to destroy the hereditary state of Jogaila. The Teutons managed to destroy the town, but it quickly recovered. In 1402 another Teutonic attack on the city occurred, but was bloodily repelled and the Teutons were forced to withdraw to Medininkai.

In 1413, the town became one of the most notable centres of trade and commerce within the Vilnius Voivodship. Because of that, in 1432 it became a battlefield of an important battle between the royal forces of Jogaila under Žygimantas Kęstutaitis and the forces of Švitrigaila allied with the Teutonic Order. After the town was taken by the royalists, it became a private property of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and started to develop rapidly. However, less than a century later the town was yet again destroyed and burnt to the ground, this time by the forces of Muscovy in 1519. The recovery did not occur as quickly as the previous time and in 1537 the town was granted with several royal privileges to facilitate the reconstruction. In 1566 the town finally received a city charter based on the Magdeburg Law, which was later confirmed (along with the privileges for the local merchants and burghers) by king Jan III Sobieski in 1683. In the 16th century the town also became one of the most notable centres of Calvinism in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, after Mikołaj "the Red" Radziwiłł founded a collegiate and a church there.

Coat of Arms, 1792

In 1792, King Stanisław August Poniatowski confirmed all the previous privileges and the fact, that the town of Oszmiany, as it was then called, was a free city, subordinate only to the king and the local city council. It was also then that the town received the first Coat of Arms in its history. Composed of three fields parted per pale, it featured a shield, a hand holding a weigh and the Ciołek coat of arms, a personal coat of arms of the monarch.

Russian coat of arms of the town of Oszmiana, created after the November Uprising

In the effect of the Partitions of Poland of 1795, the town was annexed by Imperial Russia. During the November Uprising it was liberated by a local priest Jasiński and Colonel Count Karol Przeździecki with help of town population. However, in April 1831 they were forced to withdraw to the Naliboki forest in the face of a Russian offensive. After a minor skirmish with Polish–Lithuanian rearguard under Stelnicki, the Russian punitive expeditionary force of some 1500 officers and soldiers entered the town and proceeded to burn the town and massacre the civilian population. Some 500 people, women, children and elderly seeking refuge in the Dominican Catholic Church were massacred there. Even the local priest was murdered. Nothing is known about the fate of the Jewish citizens. After this destruction the town was somewhat repopulated and received a new coat of arms in 1845 in recognition of its rather smallish growth. Gradually rebuilt, it never recovered from its earlier losses and by the end of the 19th century it became rather a provincial town, inhabited primarily by Jewish immigrants from other parts of Russia 'beyond the pale'. In 1912 the local Jewish community built a large synagogue.

After the end of World War I on the German-Russo front in 1917 and withdrawal of the German army in 1919, Bolshevik activity threatened the town, then under Polish jurisdiction. Consequently, Polish armed forces defended the town against the invading Bolsheviks, and there still exist graves of Polish soldiers who had died in that struggle. Finally after the Polish–Bolshevik War ended, Ashmyany was restored to Poland by the Treaty of Riga.

It was a county center first of Wilno Land, then of Wilno Voivodeship during Polish rule. Between the Polish Defensive War of 1939 and 1941 the town was seized by the USSR and then until 1944 by Nazi Germany. During the very end of the Soviet occupation, the NKVD on the night of June 22 and morning of June 23, 1941, murdered and buried in one mass grave 57 Polish prisoners from the local population. During the Nazi occupation, which began June 25, 1941, the Jews of Ashmyany were restricted to a ghetto; their spiritual leader was Rabbi Zew Wawa Morejno. Its governance under the Nazis was allotted to Generalbezirk Litauen of Reichskommissariat Ostland. On July 7, 1944, it was taken by the Red Army during the Vilnius Offensive. In 1945 town was annexed by the USSR and included as a part of the Byelorussian SSR. Since 1991, it has been a part of Belarus. It was a raion center in Vileyka Voblast between 1939 and 1941 and after 1944. Its raion was incorporated into Molodechno Voblast between 1944 and 1960, after which that Voblast became extinct. At that point, the raion was given over to Hrodna Voblast, where it remains today.

Map of Ashmyany


  • 1859 – 3,066 citizens [1]
  • 1871 – 4,546 citizens [2]
  • 1880 – 5,050 citizens (2501 Jews, 2175 Roman Catholics, 352 Orthodoxs) [3]
  • 1897 – 6,400 citizens [4]
  • 1907/08 – 8,300 citizens
  • 1921 – 6,000 citizens
  • 1939 – 8,500 citizens
  • 1974 – 10,000 citizens (Great Soviet Encyclopedia)
  • 1991 – 15,200 citizens [5]
  • 2004 – 14,900 citizens
  • 2006 – 14,600 citizens [6]
  • 2007 – 14,269 citizens [7]


Panorama view


  • Alternate names: Oszmiana, Aschemynne, Oshmyany, Ašmena, Oshmana, Oshmene, Oshmina, Osmiany, Oszmiana, Ozmiana, Osmiana, Oßmiana, Possibly Oschmjansky (Middle Ages maps)
  • Mentioned in: Memoirs of Baron Lejeune, Volume II, Chapter VII.


This climatic region is typified by large seasonal temperature differences, with warm to hot (and often humid) summers and cold (sometimes severely cold) winters. According to the Köppen climate classification system, Ashmyany has a humid continental climate, abbreviated "Dfb" on climate maps.[3]


  1. ^ a b Petras Gaučas. Ašmena. Visuotinė lietuvių enciklopedija, T. II (Arktis-Beketas). V.: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidybos institutas, 2002, 113 psl.
  2. ^ a b c d Zinkevičius, Zigmas (2007). Senosios Lietuvos valstybės vardynas. Vilnius: Science and Encyclopaedia Publishing Institute. p. 41. ISBN 5-420-01606-0.
  3. ^ Climate Summary for Ashmyany

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 54°25′N 25°56′E / 54.417°N 25.933°E / 54.417; 25.933