Last modified: 2003-07-05 by dov gutterman
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Coat of Arms adopted 20 September 1991.
The State Emblem - The state emblem of the Republic of Lithuania is the Vytis (the White Knight). The heraldic shield features a red field with an armoured knight on a white (silver) horse holding a silver sword in his right hang above his head. A blue shield hangs on the left shoulder of the charging knight with a double gold (yellow) cross on it. The horse saddle, straps, and belts are blue. The hilt of the sword and the fastening of the sheath, the charging knight's spurs, the curb bits of the bridle, the horseshoes, as well as the decoration of the harness, are gold.
The charging knight is known to have been first used as the state emblem in 1366. It is featured on the seal of the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Algirdas, which marks a document belonging to that year. The old prototype of the present Vytis depicts a knight on horseback holding a sword in his raised hand. The symbol of the charging knight on horseback was handed down through the generations: from Algirdas to his son, Grand Duke Jogaila, then to Grand Duke Vytautas and others. By the 14th century, the charging knight on horseback with a sword had begun to be featured in a heraldic shield, first in Jogaila's seal in 1386 or 1387, and also in the seal of Vytautas in 1401. As early as the 15th century, the heraldic charging knight on horseback became the coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and of its central part - the Duchy of Vilnius. 16th century documents refer to it as Vytis (it is believed that the word Vytis was used in the 15th century). At first, the charging knight was depicted riding in one or the other direction and sometime held a lance. But as of the first half of the 15th century, he is always shown riding to the left (as see by the viewer) with a sword in his raised hand and a shield in the left hand.
In the 15th century, the colours of the seal became uniform. The livery colours became fixed: a white (silver) charging knight on a red field of the heraldic shield. The shield of the charging knight was blue then and set against the blue field was a double (gold) cross. The coat of arms featured the grand duke's headgear on the crest.
A first, the charging knight showed the figure of the ruler of the country, but with time it came to be understood and interpreted as that of a riding knight who was chasing an intruder out of his native country. Such an understanding was especially popular in the 19th century and the first half of 20th century. The explanation has a sound historical foundation. It is known that at the Zalgiris (Grunwald) battle, where the united Polish-Lithuanian army crushed the army of the German Order, thus putting an end to its expansion to the east, thirty Lithuanian regiments out of the total forty were flying with the sign of the Vytis.
With minor stylistic changes, the Vytis coat of arms remained the state symbol of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania until 1795. When the Lithuanian - Polish Commonwealth was formed in 1569, the Vytis was featured on the state emblem alongside the Polish Eagle. As time went by, the Vytis gained popularity and constituted part of the coat of arms of most provinces and towns. It was widely used in public life during festive ceremonies and so on. The Vytis sign on the Ausros vartai (Ausros Gate) in the 16th century defence wall of Vilnius, surviving to this day, was to signify that Vilnius was the capital of Lithuania. The Byelorussians also consider the Vytis to be their national emblem.
When Lithuania was annexed by Russian Empire in 1795, the Vytis was incorporated into the imperial state emblem. Slightly modified in 1845, it was used as the coat of arms of the city and province of Vilnius. While restoring the independent Lithuanian state in 1918-19, due care was taken to restore the state emblem too. A special commission was set up to analyse the best 16th century specimens of Vytis to design a state emblem. Only the crest with the grand duke's headgear was rejected. The Vytis was the state emblem of the Republic of Lithuania until 1940. When on June 15, 1940 Lithuania was occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union, the symbol of the Vytis came to be viewed as hostile to the new authorities and its portrayal was punishable (during Stalin's rule this could mean imprisonment or even deportation). It was only in 1988, when a revival movement began in Lithuania, that the Vytis was again legalized as a national symbol. As of March 11, 1990 the Vytis is once again the official state emblem and symbol of the Republic of Lithuania. On April 10, 1990 the Supreme Council of Republic of Lithuania approved the description of the state emblem and determined the principal regulations for its use. On September 4, 1991, the old colours of the Vytis seal were re-established.
Jarig Bakker, 2 October 1999
The Pursuit, as it is sometimes called, is perhaps the oldest
emblem of Lithuania, figuring in many ancient symbols and having
been the principal emblem on the obverse of the State Flag (1919
or 20 - 1940) and on the emblems of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom
Dave Martucci, 2 October 1999
From The Heraldry of Lithuania, Vol. 1, Vilnius 1998:
"The Lithuanian State Coat of Arms
Description - A mounted knight in silver armour, holding a raised silver sword with a golden hilt above his head, on a field of red. At his left shoulder, the knight carries a blue shield charged with a golden double cross. The horse's bridle, leather bands, saddle and short saddle-cloth are blue, its horseshoes, bit, stirrup, metal buckles, and the rider's spur are golden.
Overview - Lithuania's knight, called the Vytis, is one of the oldest State emblems in Europe and one of the few whose symbolism was taken not from dynastic arms, as in the majority of European countries, but from ducal portrait seals. It was not by chance that in the beginning of the 16th C., a chronicler described Lithuania's coat of arms as indicating a mature ruler capable of defending his Homeland by the sword.
In the Middle Ages, the image of the mounted ruler knight was perhaps the most favoured symbol for seals. It represented both the sovereignty of the land, and its defender. One can find a great many such seals in neighbouring countries. In Lithuania, the earliest knight was depicted on the 1366 seal of Grand Duke Algirdas; it has not survived. Circa 1385-1386, when Jogaila Algirdaitis (son of Algirdas) made the knight a heraldic figure, using him as a motif on a shield, the personal portrait of the ruler acquired a common meaning. In the beginning, the knight symbolized the State's most important Duchy of Vilnius, and was depicted holding a lance: whoever ruled Vilnius also governed the entire country. Circa 1382-1384, aspiring to govern, Duke Vytautas of Trakai, Jogaila's cousin, had replaced the standing warrior, a lower rank image used on seals up to that time, with the mounted knight. It was in fact during the rule of Vytautas (1392-1430) that the mounted knight became the emblem not only of Vilnius, but of the entire State - the powerful Grand Duchy of Lithuania -which Vytautas had created. This is seen very clearly in the throne seal of Vytautas, which appeared at the beginning of the 15th C. Surrounded by the arms of the territories belonging to him, in one hand the ruler holds the sword, symbolizing ducal authority, and in the other - a shield charged with the knight, thereby symbolizing the State of Lithuania (knight with sword), in the same way that the sovereign globe represents the king.
One can only surmise why the portrait of the ruler, and not the double cross of Jogaila or the Columns of the family of Gediminas became the State symbol. First of all, it must be remembered that the coat of arms of the ruler, and later of the State, had international significance, and needed to be clear and understood by all. At that time, the heraldry of European States was dominated by totally different symbols, ones borrowed from the world of flora and fauna.
The king of beasts - the lion, of birds - the eagle, the queen of flora- the lily, represented emperors, kings, dukes, and the States which they ruled. Such devices had clearly defined meanings. The lion indicated strength, noble-heartedness, and wrath, the eagle courage, a sharp mind, and insight, and the lily beauty and majesty. Compared to the lineal heraldry of the Columns of the family of Gediminas, or even the double cross, these arms were much more expressive and comprehensible. Secondly, at the time when Lithuania's coat of arms was being formed, its people had been fighting to the death for over a hundred years in an effort to preserve their Statehood. War became the daily affair not only of the rulers, but of every Lithuanian in the land. The heaviest burden lay on the warrior and his constant companion, his horse - both of whom were extolled in folk song and legend. Thus the mounted knight as defender of the land was a clear sign to both locals and foreigners, and as a symbol perhaps best reflected the existing political situation. Thus the portrait of the ruler and defender of the country became the emblem of a State ready to determine its fate by the sword.
The colours and the composition of the coat of arms were established in the beginning of the 15th C., if not somewhat earlier: the mounted knight in silver armour with sword raised above his head, on a field of red; a blue shield charged with a golden double cross, at his left shoulder (under the rule of the Kestutis family - a red shield with the golden Columns of the family of Gediminas). The horse's bridle, leather bands and short saddle-cloth were coloured blue. Both metals and the two most important emblem colours of the Middle Ages were used for the coat of arms. Red at that time represented the materialistic, or earthly values of life, courage, and blood; blue signified the spiritual, or divine values of heaven, godly wisdom, and intelligence. After the Union of Lublin in 1569, when the joint State of Poland-Lithuania was formed, the early emblem colours began to change, probably under the influence of the Polish coat of arms (red-white-yellow). Sometimes the horse's saddle-cloth was coloured red or purple, and the leather bands yellow. Only the knight's blue shield with its golden cross changed less often.
In Lithuania's early heraldry, the knight was usually depicted as if ready to leap to the defence. In the mid-15Ith C., after Lithuania's emblem acquired the name "Pogon, Pogonia, Pogonczyk" from Polish heraldry, the old image of the defender of the land slowly became that of the knight pursuing and chasing the enemy. In the 17th C., in an attempt to find a Lithuanian equivalent for the Polish "Pogonia", Konstantinas Sirvydas named the emblem "Waykimas", which is what it was mostly called throughout the 19th C. In 1885 Jonas Basanavicius nicknamed the knight "Vaikas" (from the word "vaikyti" - to chase). The term "Vytis" appeared at the end of the 19th C. It was a new word, which had been created in the middle of the century by Simonas Daukantas. The honourable historian called Lithuania's noble knights and horsemen - "vytis". It was perhaps Mikalojus Akelaitis who had first baptized Lithuania's emblem, the "Vitis", in Ausra (Dawn), in 1884. Until the 1930s the emblem was called "Vytis" from the word "vyti" (to chase, pursue - according to the Polish version). Only later was its meaning traced to the word "vytis" (coined by Daukantas to represent the knight).
The Lithuanian coat of arms, which had represented the State for more than four centuries, was abolished in 1795, when Lithuania came under the rule of the Russian Empire for a period which would last for more than 100 years. True, the historic knight did not disappear entirely. On April 6, 1845, Emperor Nicholas I approved the use of the knight for the coat of arms of the province of Vilnius. An armoured knight on a white horse was depicted galloping across green land, on a field of red. The knight's silver shield was charged with a golden Orthodox cross. The horse's saddle-cloth was coloured violet and edged in gold. The green land disappeared from emblems created during the second half of the century, and the Orthodox cross on the knight's shield was coloured red; the saddle-cloth became longer and acquired three points - it, like the bridle and other leather bands were coloured purple and edged in gold.
After the downfall of the Russian Empire during the First World War, Lithuania proclaimed the Act of Restoration of the State on February 16, 1918. The historic knight of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania once again took his place in the emblem of the Lithuanian Republic. The first projects for the coat of arms were designed by Tadas Daugirdas and Antanas Zmuidzinavicius; devices drawn by Adomas Varnas, Adomas Galdikas, and other artists were also used. The romanticized version created by A. Zmuidzinavicius was the most popular. Its prototype was undoubtedly a 1910 drawing by Tadeusz Dmochowski, reminiscent of the coat of arms used during the last years of the province of Vilnius. Only T. Dmochowski depicted the knight more or less historically, while A. Zmuidzinavicius made him look as if he was flying through the air. The horse also acquired a golden bridle, bands, and a long golden saddle-cloth with three points. To further embellish the coat of arms, the artist decorated the shield with a golden bordure inset with heraldic stones, ornamentation which Lithuania had never used before. It was the Spaniards and the Portuguese who were especially fond of bordures. Heraldic bordures usually meant a secondary, subordinate lineage, and were totally inappropriate for the arms of a sovereign State.
The romantic coat of arms created by A. Zmuidzinavicius was criticized, and a special Commission for the Establishment of State Arms was formed in 1929. Its most active members were an archaeologist, General Vladas Nagevicius, art critic Paulius Galaune, artist Mstislavas Dobuzinskis, historians Ignas Jonynas and Augustinas Janulaitis, and other known individuals. The work took five years. M. Dobuzinskis created a project based on the iconography of Lithuania's ancient coins and seals, but did not solve perhaps the most important question - the colours for the coat of arms. The principal colours - the silver knight on a field of red - did survive, but the knight's shield was also coloured red, and the double cross, the horseshoes, the horse's bridle and other accoutrements gold. As it was not clear how to justify superimposing gold on a silver horse, reference was made to the "golden bridles" and "golden horseshoes" of folk songs. The colours and the poor composition of the knight (with a great deal of empty red field) aside, the emblem created by M. Dobuzinskis was more archaic and better founded historically than the version by A. Zmuidzinavicius, which had been in use till then. However the new emblem was not officially confirmed. And the further development of State heraldry was suspended for half a century by the Soviet occupation in 1940.
The Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania legalized the historic emblem of the State of Lithuania - the Vytis - on March 11, 1990, the same day that it proclaimed the Act of Restoration of the Independent State of Lithuania. Soon after, on March 20, the first post-war composition of the Lithuanian State arms was confirmed. It was based on the sculptured image of the Vytis, which had been created for Lithuanian coins in 1925 by sculptor Juozas Zikaras. The colours of the coat of arms were laid down on April 9: a mounted knight in silver armour, holding a raised silver sword above his head, and bearing on his left shoulder a red shield charged with a golden double cross, on a field of red. The sword hilt and the sheath braces, the knight's spur, the bridle bit, the horseshoes, bands, and their decorations were all gold. The colours were taken from the emblem created in 1934, although in fact the standard of the coloured coat of arms, confirmed by the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania on May 17, depicted the shields in purple. This coat of arms became the symbol of the period of transition, and seemed to emphasize that the State of Lithuania would carry on its pre-war traditions. At the same time, the Lithuanian Heraldry Commission was assigned to prepare a more accurate version of the device, one based on historical and iconographic sources. On September 4, 1991, the Supreme Council confirmed the second version of the coat of arms, the one which is in use to this day. It differs from the preceding one in that it incorporates the historical colours and metals (red, blue, silver, gold) which appeared back in the time of Lithuania's Grand Duke Vytautas. The new coat of arms also strives to embrace the original idea of the emblem, i.e. to depict a knight prepared to use the sword to defend his country and state. Restoring the idea of the historical colours and the ancient device meant that Lithuania is not only inheriting and carrying on traditions from before the war, but also those of the sovereignty of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Besides the State emblem, the Vytis, two other historical symbols have been widely used in public life from the end of the 14th C. to the present day: the double cross, and the Columns of the family of Gediminas. They were publicly acknowledged as national symbols during the tenth session of the eleventh congress of the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR, back in November 1988.
The double cross was the emblem of Lithuania's Grand Prince Jogaila, and later of the Jogaila family dynasty. The golden double cross (in an earlier period often with a longer lower transom) is usually depicted on a field of azure. Since the second half of the 16th C. it has also sometimes been coloured silver, has had cross-pieces of equal length, and has been depicted on a field of red. The true origins of the double cross have yet to be determined. What is clear is that Jogaila did not inherit this symbol from his father Algirdas, because the latter used an image reminiscent of two united arrows, superimposed with a cross. The double cross was known in the heraldry of Jogaila from 1388, i.e. soon after the christening of Lithuania. Therefore it is thought that its symbolism is associated with this event, which was important both to Jogaila and to the entire country. In a legend created about the double cross, it is said that Duke Sventaragis invited a prophetess from Nemunaitis to come and explain the meaning of the 101 stones which were inscribed with signs indicating good and bad years, and built into the pagan sanctuary. The prophetess said that when the year of the double cross carne to pass, the sanctuary would be demolished and the faith displaced. Not infrequently in Western European heraldry a similar cross represents baptism. It is called a patriarchal cross, or the cross of Lorraine, and is used by archbishops. The double cross with its similar meaning, found on the arms of Hungary, could have been the prototype for the Lithuanian one. It was used both independently and on the shield of the Lithuanian knight. In the beginning the double cross on the State arms indicated the ruling dynasty. After the death in 1572 of Sigismund Augustus, the last descendant of the male line of the Jogaila family, the double cross was kept as part of the great, and later the small State seals. Having lost its association with the dynasty, it began to be called simply the Vytis cross.
After 1397, the Columns of the Gediminas family became the emblem for Lithuania's Grand Duke Vytautas. It is thought that his father Kestutis, Duke of Trakai, may have already had a similar symbol. After the death of Vytautas, his brother Sigismundus of the Kestutis family took it over. It was therefore called the emblem of the Kestutis family, and as of the 16th C., when the Jogaila family also began to use it, it became the symbol of the entire Gediminas family dynasty. It was usually a golden shape on a field of red, though after the second half of the 16th C., it was not infrequently coloured silver. This emblem has perhaps borne the most legends. In the 15th C. it did not yet have a name and was, according to Jan Dlugosz, the sign of Vytautas, often used for branding horses, and to decorate military banners. In the beginning of the 16th C., the emblem was called the Columns, and was assigned to Palemonas, the legendary founder of the Gediminas family dynasty, who had come to Lithuania from Italy. Later this symbol was associated with signs used by Tatars, Slavs, Scandinavians, and even the Japanese. What is clear is that the so-called Columns did originate in Lithuania, for similar signs can be found even on the arms of nobles. Once they may have represented posts, or gates with towers. Teodoras Narbutas christened this emblem the Columns of Gediminas in the first half of the 19th C., because it was thought that Grand Duke Gediminas was the one who had started using them. During the first half of the 20th C. the emblem was referred to as a mast gate. Scholarly literature now uses the more neutral name, the Columns of the Gediminas family. The double cross and the Columns of the Gediminas family became very widely used during the first half of the 20th C., after the formation of the Independent State of Lithuania. They became the identifying emblem of the Lithuanian army, police, airforce, and other State institutions. They embellished Lithuanian orders, medals, official insignia, and became the emblems of a great many public societies and organizations. Their use, along with the State arms, was banned in 1940. The historical symbols were resurrected with Lithuania's rebirth. In 1988 the Columns of the Gediminas family became the main emblem of the Lithuanian "Sajudis", the movement which brought the country to the point of its restoration as the State of Lithuania, and took on the role of the second State emblem. The double cross began to symbolize the restored Lithuanian police force. The historical designs were returned to the Lithuanian army, airforce, navy, National Olympic Committee, and other State and public institutions. Once the personal symbols of Lithuania's dukes, and later of dynasties, these emblems gradually became the symbols of the entire Lithuanian nation, or national symbols."
Audrius Slapsinskas, 24 June 2003
See also: <jurix.jura.uni-sb.de/~serko/history/pahonia.html>
The version with the griffin and unicorn is the coat of arms
of the president, which appears on its flag.
Pascal Vagnat, 27 June 2003
from Smolensk site located by Dov Gutterman, 21 December 1998
This is a CoA of Great Lithuania to which Smolensk was added
Michael B.Simakov , 21 December 1998