History of Vytis

Vytis is one of the oldest coats of arms in the world. It is a sign that was used by the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in the 13th c. - 14th c. signifying a mature ruler who honourably defends his Homeland with a sword. Vytis is one of the few coats of arms whose symbolism originate from seals portraying images of dukes.

It is believed that the Grand Duke Algirdas of Lithuania may have been the first duke to have used a seal with an image of himself on horseback.
Jogaila (Jagiełło) and his brothers, who became the Grand Dukes of Lithuania after Algirdas' death had riding knight seals, and later other princes of the Gediminas dynasty began to portray themselves in this way. During the reign of Vytautas in the 14th century. The riding knight became the coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

When Vytis became a coat of arms of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, other signs prevailed in the heraldry of European states. In Europe, at that time there was a popular lord of animals, a lion who meant strength, generosity and wrath, as well as an eagle, which meant courage, a sharp mind and foresight, and a lily, which meant beauty and greatness.

However, unlike in Europe, the symbolism of Vytis was not taken from the dynastic coats of arms, but from the portrait seals of the dukes. It is speculated that the Vytis, and not the pillars of the Gediminas or the double-cross of Jogaila, became a symbol of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania because the coat of arms had an international significance and had to be understood by everyone. At that time, the desperate struggle of Lithuanians for the preservation of statehood had continued for more than 100 years, and the riding knight as a defender of the country was clearly understood by both locals and foreigners, as it reflected the political situation of the state.

XVI c. after the union of Lublin, Vytis was depicted in the common coat of arms of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Polish heralds gave the coat of arms of Lithuania the name Pogoń, Pogonia, Pogończyk, to which Konstantin Sirvydas indicated two meanings - waykitoias and waykimas. Vytis is a new word created by Simonas Daukantas.

Vytis, which had represented the state for more than four centuries, was abolished in 1795 when Lithuania was occupied by the Russian Empire for more than 100 years. However, the historic riding knight did not disappear. 1845 The Russian emperor Nicholas I confirmed it as the coat of arms of Vilnius province. However, instead of a double-cross, an eight-headed (Orthodox) cross was depicted on the rider’s shield.

1918 February 16 After Lithuania restored independence, Vytis became the coat of arms of Lithuania. 1922 the Lithuanian founding parliament Seimas adopted the Constitution of Lithuania in 1928 which states: “The State Mark is white Vytis on the Red Bottom” The first drafts of the coat of arms were designed by Tadas Daugirdas and Antanas Žmuidzinavičius. Also in use were the designs by Adomas Varnas, Adomas Galdikas, Juozas Zikaras and other artists. The romanticised version by Žmuidzinavičius was the most widespread one.

1940 June 15 after the occupation of the Republic of Lithuania by the Soviet Union, not only did the further development of the state's heraldry but all symbols of statehood were banned. Their use was severely punished. Nevertheless, the symbols of the independent Lithuanian state were used in the underground press by freedom fighters, also by members of anti-Soviet organizations and individuals to express resistance, and they were widely used by exile Lithuanians.

Supreme Council of the Republic of Lithuania – the Reconstituent Seimas 1990 March 11 adopted the Act on the Restoration of the Independent State of Lithuania and restored the independence of the State of Lithuania and on the same day the historical coat of arms of the State of Lithuania - Vytis – was adopted as historical Lithuanian coat of arms. Interestingly, the coat of arms was confirmed before the declaration of the restoration of Lithuania's independence. The law on the name and coat of arms of the state was passed to prevent any speculation as to which state's independence will be restored.

The current benchmark for the image of Vytis was adopted on 4 September 1991 by the resolution of the Supreme Council, which approved the version of the Vytis created by the artist Arvydas Každailis.


Information collected by Dr. Vilma Akmenytė-Ruzgienė.

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