Symbols on the coins of the Gran Duchy of Lithuania

Volume XI   No. 2  December 2007
Research  Papers

Stanislovas Sajauskas

The article focuses on the analysis of the symbols used on the coins of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Meaningful symbols are classified into heraldic insignia of state, dynasty, territory, vassals, administrators of a mint, etc. The main symbols are state heraldic insignia that were used by grand dukes of Lithuania as coats of arms of their dynasties or the ruled by them duchies (lands). The latter include the state emblem of the GDL Vytis that depicts a grand duke, Gediminian columns, double cross against a shield, and a spearhead with a cross. The article says that – throughout different periods in history – the above insignia could represent both dynasties and territories. For instance, the Gediminian columns, originally the dynastic insignia of the Kęstutis family, was later used as the coat of arms of the Trakai duchy. A mounted night with a spear, previously an image of a ruler, became the coat of arms of the Vilnius land in the course of time. Meanwhile Jogaila’s personal coat of arms double cross, introduced by him into heraldic signs of Lithuania, later became the coat of arms of the Jagiellonian dynasty.

The article discusses a symbol in the numismatic literature sometimes referred to as a Christian symbol fish–ring. Without discerning a fish, the author comes up with a new interpretation of this symbol, bringing out a version that the coins of Jogaila might depict a dragon, the same as the one under the feet of Vytis on the sovereign seal of Jogaila of the year 1388. He gives interpretation that the symbol of a dragon that symbolises evil defeated by Christianity might be related to the Order of the Dragon of St. George founded by Jogaila’s brother-in-law Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Hungary, with Jogaila being one of its members.

In scrutinising the meaning of spearhead with a cross – a heraldic symbol frequently used in Lithuanian numismatics – the author draws attention to the unique character of this sign. It is depicted on three types of coins with different state insignia: double cross, Gediminian columns and a Cyrillic word PEČAT. At the same time it is noted that this sign is not found on any seal of Lithuanian dukes. Conclusion has been drawn that a spearhead with a cross is not a dynastic insignia but was used as a minor coat of arms of the main land of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – the Vilnius land, and was depicted on small-diameter coins by grand dukes of Lithuania Algirdas, Jogaila and Vytautas. Analysing characteristic features of spearhead with a cross/Gediminian columns design of the coins from the Verkiai hoard, attention has been drawn that stylistics of the cross depicted near the spearhead changes from the Greek cross with equal ends to the Latin one with a two times longer upright post. The article ascertains that this reflects weakening influence of Orthodox Church in the Christian Lithuania under the rule of Vytautas.

When examining iconography of a personal heraldic symbol of the duke – lion – in the vassal coins of Skirgaila, the conclusion has been drawn that a sign of two interwoven harts above the lion might be a symbol of vassal subordination.

Emergence of heraldic insignia of administrators of the mint – governor of the mint and GDL land treasurer – on the GDL coins in the second half of the 16th century prove that the requirements for the appearance of the coins as well as the qualitative indicators (fineness, weight, etc.) were tightened what in turn ensured high confidence in GDL coins as well as their demand.

Full article in Lithuanian language.

Source of information: Bank of Lithuania.
© Copyright information. This is Bank of Lithuania publication and used here for non commercial purposes.