Duchy of Samogitia

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The Eldership of Samogitia (Lithuanian: Žemaičių seniūnija; Latin: Capitaneatus Samogitiae) was the western part of Lithuania.

File:ZZemmazasm naujas.jpg
Artistic picture of Žemaičių Seniūnija in 18th century. Map published by Samogitian Cultural Association, click on picture for details

Samogitia is a latinized version of the name. In the Middle Ages names like Samaiten, Samaitae, Zamaytae, Samogitia, Samattae, Samethi were used in German and Latin sources. It, together with other variants: Schmudien (German), Żmudź(Polish), Žmudź (Жмудзь, Belorussian), Schamaiten (Another German version), is derived from the Lithuanian, Žemaitija, for "Žemės žemaitēs", which is the "Lowlands", as opposed to "Žemės aukštaitēs", the "Highlands" (Aukštaitija).

The eldership was located in the western part of the Republic of Lithuania. Its western border historically has been border with East Prussia and Baltic sea, in the north it bordered Curlandia, in the south - Neman River. Eastern border of Samogitia was not so stable. During the Middle Ages and until 1795 Samogitia had clearly defined borders as Eldership of Samogitia, later it was associated with the Samogitian diocese. Nowadays Samogitia is mainly associated with the ethnographic region and is not defined administratively.


The Duchy was located in what today is several counties (apskritis) in Lithuania: a small part of Kaunas County (Kauno Apskritis), the western part Šiauliai County (Šiaulių Apskritis), Tauragė County (Tauragės Apskritis), Telšiai County (Telšių Apskritis), the northern part of Klaipėda County (Klaipėdos Apskritis) and the northern part of Marijampolė County (Marijampolės Apskritis).

The major part of Samogitia is located on Western Upland. Lowlands which are referred in its name are on the border between Samogitia and Eastern Lithuania, along the Nevėžis river.


Before the formation of the Lithuanian state, Samogitia was ruled by its local noblemen. A chronicle mentions two dukes from Samogitia in 1219 as signatories of the treaty with Volhynia.

Since the formation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 13th century, Samogitia was its dependent territory, however sometimes the influence of the Lithuanian Grand Duke was very limited. During the rule of the first Lithuanian king, Mindaugas, Samogitians pursued an independent foreign policy and continued fighting with the Knights of the Sword even after King Mindaugas had signed a peace treaty with them.

Samogitia for 200 years played a crucial role in halting the expansion of the Teutonic Order and several times successfully defeated the Knights of the Sword in the Battle of the Sun (1236), the Battle of Skuodas (1259), and the Battle of Durbe (1260).

In the atmosphere of fierce battles with the Teutonic Knights, the Lithuanian rulers Jogaila and Vytautas several times ceded Samogitia to the Teutonic Order in 1382, 1398 and 1404. However, the Teutonic Knights were not very successful in subjugating the land, and Samogitians revolted in 1401 and 1409. After the defeats in the Battle of Grunwald (1410) and following wars, in 1422 the Teutonic Order ceded Samogitia to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Samogitians were the last in Europe to accept Christianity in 1413.

Because of its prolonged wars with the Teutonic Order, Samogitia had developed a social and political structure different from the rest of Lithuania. It had a larger proportion of free farmers and smaller estates than in Eastern Lithuania.

After the annexation of Lithuania by the Imperial Russia, Samogitia was included into the Kaunas guberniya. At the beginning of the 19th century Samogitia was the center of Lithuanian revival, which stressed the importance of Lithuanian language and opposed russification and polonization attempts.

Rulers of Samogitia

Title: Grand Prince (‘Kunigaikštis’ or ’Didysis Kunigaikštis’ in Lithuanian)

Gimbutas 11th century
Kiernus 11th century
Kukovytas 11th century
Montvilas ?1070
Vykintas 11th - 12th century
Trabus 1??? - 1268 (1267)
Romanas 1268 (1267) - 1270
Narimantas 1270 - 12??

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