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Samogitia (Lithuania)

Žemaiteje, Žemitija, Zmudz

Last modified: 2021-08-12 by zachary harden
Keywords: lithuania | samogitia |
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image by Ivan Sache, 24 November 2001
based on image from <>

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Samogitia (Western Lithuania; Zemaitija in Lithuanian) is a historical region in Lithuania which in medieval times enjoyed a wide authonomy.
Visvaldas Kairys ,University of Iowa , 20 January 1999

Samogitia Flag

It's hard to say when the original Samogitian first appeared and what it looked like, since none of the early flags survived .
No flag accompanied the Samogitians into battle at Zalgiris (Gruenwald) in 1410.
The Samogitians didn't yet take along a flag when they attended the Church gathering in Constance and asked the Grand Duke Vytautas for permission to use his heraldry.
In 1528 military records only regional flag-bearers are mentioned - for example, the Vilkija flag was carried by Mykolas Stankevicius and the Veliuona flag by Mikna Rusteikovicius.
The Samogitian flag was first officially mentioned in 1565-66 during a period of administrative reform. Then it was described only as a "white coat of arms on a red background." That was the Samogitian battle flag, kept in the Lithuanian treasury. It's unclear when this flag was sewn - perhaps during the first military conscription in the early 16th c.
The Samogitian flag was taken out of the treasury during military conscription periods, in honor of high-ranking visitors, and, of course, during battle.
A little more information about the Samogitian flag comes to light after 1578. Aleksandras Gvagninas, who served in the Lithuanian armed forces and had the chance to see more that one flag, wrote that the flag the Samogitians used during battle was white and had two horns or a tail. The flag also depicted the Lithuanian Grand Duke's coat of arms on a red shield.
In 1584 the Polish-Lithuanian coat-of-arms-maker Bartosas Paprockis is the first to mention that Samogitia uses a red background with a black bear who has a white chain around his neck
.In the Bielskis chronicles at the end of the 16th c. we receive confirmation that the Samogitian flag is white and depicts a Lithuanian wheel on the one side. On the other side we find a bear on a red background who his standing on his hind legs and has a white chain around his neck. Kasparas Niesieckis confirms this news in the early 18th c.
In his 1780 description of Samogitia, the theology student Kangas Baginskis confirms that the white flag of the Samogitian principality shows a coat of arms on one side: a black bear with a white chain. On the other side there is a wheel on a red background. The author is very proud of the fact that he has traveled the length and breadth of Samogitia and has recorded all that he has seen. However, it is unlikely that this honorable theology student ever set eyes on the Samogitian flag. Most likely he found out about it through Niesieckis' or some other author's work.
From everything that has been said, we might conclude that the white flag of the Samogitian lands (and later principality) came into being sometime before the administrative reforms of 1565-66. Its main side, to the right of the shaft, simply depicted the Lithuanian Grand Duke's coat of arms; the other side showed the Samogitian coat of arms. It's possible that the black bear decorated both sides of some of the flags.
In Samogitia, both the state army and individual boyars' armed forces used white flags.
The Czartoryski Collection in Cracow is home to the flag of the Samogitian boyar Volodkevicius. It is white with the owner's personal coat of arms. Another white flag dating from the late 17th c. or early 18th c. fell into the hands of the Swedes and may also have originally belonged to a Samogitian.
Other famous relatives also liked white flags. The Lithuanian Birzai and Dubingiai branch of the Radvilians used white flags with a black eagle.
From the 16th c. on, three colors were generally used on Lithuanian flags. The Grand Duchy and the Vilnius regions had red flags, the Lithuanian hetmen and the Trakai region used blue flags and Samogitia - white. Since most flags depicted the Grand Duke's coat of arms and only occasionally displayed local coat of arms (Samogitia was an exception), the main distinctive trait of the flags were their colors. We can only guess why the Samogitians chose white.
In heraldry white tended to symbolize honesty, justice, and innocence. These are ancient Lithuanian values that we often miss in our times. White also represented water and the moon and was a princely color.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the symbolic meaning grew to include monarchic attributes.
The kings of England, Spain, Portugal, France and other countries also chose the color white for their flags.
We know that Polish-Lithuanian leaders presented white flags with black eagles to the Prussian princes during festivities.
We should also mention Simonas Daukantas, who wrote: "The soldiery, ready for battle, carried a white flag in front, on which there was a shield, divided in two: the top half was yellow and the bottom blue. On the yellow field there was an upright crown and on the blue an inverted crown. Sometimes they carried a white flag with a sitting man and a bear's head. On this flag the following words were written: 'God, creator, let your anger fall on the destroyers and find them.'" The historian took these words either straight from one of the Prussian authors - Kasparas Siucas, Kristupas Hartknochtas, Johanas Voigtas or from Teodoras Narbutas.
In spite of everything, this white flag that is closely related to the ancient Lithuanian and Baltic world view, may have roots in much more ancient times and have a long historical tradition.
These are just some possible explanations for the origins of the Samogitian flag. To find a clearer answer, much broader and exhaustive research on Samogitian heraldry is needed.
Edmundas Rimsa from <>

Coat of Arms

The Samogitian Coat of Arms was resurrected by the Samogitian Cultural Society.The Lithuanian commission on heraldry approved the coat of arms in July 21 1994 (protocol # 121).The Klaipeda artist Algis Klisevicius collected historical and iconographic material and created a small and large standard version of the coat of arms.
The history of the Samogitian coat of arms is not yet well-researched, so neither the time nor circumstances of its origin are known.
It is usually asserted that as early as the 14th c. the seal of a bear on all fours found in official documents of Grand Duke Vytautas is the Samogitian coat of arms.
W. Semkowicz was the first to criticize this view. He claimed that the seal on Vytautas' documents represented the Kievan lands. However, Semkowicz was wrong.
After the war A. Heymowski discovered half of a coat of arms in a Belgian collection. Next to the above-mentioned bear was the clear inscription: Smoleghne (Smolensk). Similar information was found on seals of the Grand Dukes Aleksandras, Zygimantas the Older, and Zygimantas Augustas the Great. The ribbons next to the bear seal announced that the seal belonged to Smolensk.
It is also clear that in the second half of the 16th c. the Samogitian flag depicted a black bear. And this bear apparently originated before it was mentioned in any of the sources we can access now.
From the 16th century on the Samogitian coat of arms is represented as a black bear with a white collar, standing on his hind legs against a red background. Later, this picture becomes officially associated with Samogitia.
The first record of the Samogitian bear among the official seals of the Grand Duchy dates to 1669. This was during the rule of Mykolas Kaributas Visnioveckis. The seal remained in use until the third partition of Poland-Lithuania in 1795.
The bear didn't appear in Samogitian sphragistics until the second half of the 18th c.
The origin of the Samogitian coat of arms is possibly related to the legendary theory of the Roman origin of Lithuanians. According to this story one of the Roman tribes that settled in Lithuania was named Ursinai (lat. ursus = bear). If this is true, then it is not clear if the Roman origin of Lithuanians is supported by the Samogitian use of the bear or if the Samogitians cleverly used the bear to develop the legend.
The Samogitian coat of arms was widely used in the prewar period. Today it has been rediscovered and appropriated by Samogitian cultural organizations, artist groups, athletes, and others.
Since there has been no one standard way of designing the coat of arms, many different versions of the Samogitian bear exist. Therefore, the Lithuanian heraldry commission accepted the Samogitian Cultural Society's suggestion to create an official version of the coat of arms. Relying on historical and iconographic sources, the artist Algis Klisevicius created large and small standard versions of the coat of arms in 1994.
Edmundas Rimsa from <>

The site <> was located by Pascal Vagnat on 22 October 1998 and it its content is presented by courtesy of Project coordinator Mr. Nerute Kligiene
Jan Mertens
corrected the above outside links on 22 July 2010

New Flag for Samogitia?

image modified from Wikipedia

A leading Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza (April 21,2008) reports under the headline "Samogitians Want To Be A Nation" a creation of the new political party (name not given) which will demand from the Lithuanian authorities the recognition of Samogitian nationhood and language and the forming of the formal Samogitian region within Lithuania. The new country has already a Coat-of-Arms and the flag (designed in 1994), capital (in Telše/Telšiai) and issues "passports", albeit, so far, in the context of the cultural activities only. The new party will contest the next election, has already 1,000 members and is growing rapidly.
The leader of it is Egidijus Skarbalius (Samogitian MP in the Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament)) who claims Samogitians are 1/3 of the inhabitants of Lithuania, what makes them 2 million strong. It could be added that Samogitia was the last region of Europe converted to Christianity (1413) and enjoyed considerable autonomy as the Principality and Starostwo (Eldership, equal Voivodship) in the Commonwealth of Both Nations until it was absorbed by the Russian Empire in the first partition of Poland. The Polish kings were afforded the titles of Dukes Samogitiaes untill 1795.
The new flag is presented in the Wikipedia's Samogitian (Zemaieška) version only. The English text on Samogitia is here.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 23 April 2008