Columns of Gediminas

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Columns of Gediminas

The Columns of Gediminas or Pillars of Gediminids are one of the earliest symbols of Lithuania and one of its historical coats of arms. They were used in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, initially as a rulers' personal insignia, a state symbol, and later as a part of heraldic signs of leading aristocracy. During the period between World War I and World War II they were used by the Lithuanian Republic as a minor state symbol, e. g. on Litas coins and military equipment.

Appearance[edit]

The symbol appears in the following form: horizontal line at bottom, vertical lines extent up at both sides. The square at the middle of the horizontal line is about half as tall as the vertical lines. Another vertical line rises from the top center of the square, giving an overall appearance is close to a trident. This form is the one usually seen in modern times, often drawn on walls and fences as protest against the Soviet occupation of Lithuania.

It is notable that the ancient pre-Christian symbols of Lithuania did not follow the same strict rules of heraldry as their western counterparts. Thus this symbol was used in Or and argent, usually on the field gules, and was depicted in various shapes on flags, banners and shields.

Name[edit]

The name "Columns of Gediminas" was given in the 19th century by historian Teodor Narbutt, who supposed that the symbol was Gediminas' insignia. The more exact name of the symbol is the Pillars of Gediminids, since there is no direct evidence of its connection with Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas.

History[edit]

Engraving of Pillars of Gediminas on a stone on Rambynas hill

According to the historical and archaeological evidence, the Columns were used by Grand Duke of Lithuania and Duke of Trakai Kęstutis. They appear on the Lithuanian coins issued by him.[1] The symbol was also used by Vytautas as his personal insignia since 1397 and appeared on his seal and coins.[2] According to the accounts of Jan Długosz, it was derived from a symbol or brand used to mark horses and other property. The Columns were adopted by descendants of Kęstutis as their family symbol, equivalent to a coat of arms. Another user of the Columns of Gediminas was Grand Duke of Lithuania Sigismund Kęstutaitis. At first the Columns signified the family of Kęstutis, in contrast to the Vytis which was used by Algirdas' descendants. Later on, as a symbol of a ruling dynasty, it was adopted by Jagiellons and the two symbols became state symbols of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

The Columns of Gediminas are displayed on the left sleeve of Jogaila in one of his best-known portraits, painted by Jan Matejko, although Jogaila's personal insignia was a double cross. The Columns of Gediminas remained in use over the following centuries. After the annexation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union the symbol was officially banned. During the Singing Revolution in the late 80s, it became an important part of the icon of Sąjūdis, the reform movement. The Columns of Gediminas are featured on the Lithuanian Presidential award Order of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas, installed in 1928. The official logo of the EuroBasket 2011, that took place in Lithuania, is composed of the Columns overlaid on a basketball board.

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