The national symbols of Great Litva

These symbols might not have always been state symbols of Litva - but objectively them and only them are the true symbols of this country.


The Pahonia


Tolki ŭ sercy tryvožnym pačuju
Za krajinu radzimuju žach,
Ŭspomniu Vostruju Bramu śviatuju
I vajakaŭ na hroznych kaniach.

U biełaj pieni pranosiacca koni
Jrvucca, jmknucca i ciažka chrypiać –
Staradaŭniaj litoŭskaj Pahoni
Nie raźbić, nie spynić, nie strymać!

U biaźmiežnuju dal vy lacicie,
A za vami, prad vami hady.
Vy za kim u pahoniu śpiašycie?
Dzie šliachi vašy jduć i kudy?

Mo jany, Biełaruś, paniaślisia
Za tvajimi dziaćmi naŭzdahon,
Što zabyli ciabie, adraklisia,
Pradali dy addali ŭ pałon?

Bicie ŭ serca jich, bicie miačyma!
Nie davajcie čužyncami być!
Chaj pačujuć, jak serca načyma
Za radnuju staronku balić…

Maci rodnaja, Maci-krajina
Nia sucišycca hetaki bol!
Ty prabač, ty pryjmi svajho syna,
Za ciabie jamu ŭmierci dazvol!

Ŭsio latuć i latuć tyja koni,
Srebnaj zbrujaj daloka hrymiać.
Staradaŭniaj litoŭskaj Pahoni
Nie raźbić, nie spynić, nie strymać!

M. Bahdanovič

The most sacred god in heathen Litva was Jaryła, the god of fertility and fruitfulness. Ancient Litvans were mainly farmers, that’s why the fertility of their soils was so important for them. Also Jaryła was a symbol of activity, vitality and life in general (the modern Belarusian language still has the word jaraść = 1) anger, wildness 2) sexual excitation).

Jaryła was depicted as a young man riding a white horse – here it is logical to search for the origin of the arms Pahonia (the Chase) – an armed horseman with his sword up.

Pahonia-like symbols can be found on a wide territory in Eastern Europe. So, the Russian duke Alexander of Novgorod (Alexander Nevskiy) had as a symbol a knight with a pike in his hand.


It is obvious that the Pahonia has the same roots with the arms of Moscow

the arms of Moscow

After Litva was Christianised, the symbol got Christian attributes (the cross on the shield) and was designed according to European heraldic rules.

Pahonia was a symbol of late Połacak and early Litvan kings

Seal of king Hleb of Połacak, 1330

the seal of Litvan duke Symon Alhierdavič

the seal of Duke Žygimont, 1398

By the end of the 14th century the Pahonia was already the symbol of the Litvan state. Litvan banners at the battle of Gruenwald had the Pahonia on them.

Litvan banners in the battle of Grünwald, 1410

In the Statutes (Law Codes) of 1566 and 1588 the Pahonia was officially declared the state symbol of the Great Duchy of Litva.

the Pahonia from the book of B. Paprocki 1578

the Pahonia from the collection of Erasmus Komin

The Pahonia was an element of the arms of the Polish-Litvan confederation

In the 20th century the Pahonia became the Arms of Belarus. The Lithuanians (a new nation formed by former Samogitians and Aukstaitians) also took the Pahonia for their national symbol instead of the traditional Samogitian bear.

The arms of the Belarusian Democratic Republic

The arms of the Republic of Belarus

The arms of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuva)


The White-red-white banner


The most popular (and the most trustworthy, as to me) legend of the origin is the following.

In ancient times the Litvans were fighting a battle against foreign invaders. The Litvan king got wounded and had his wound bandaged. But the Litvans were losing the battle, so the king took off his bondage and put this white-red-white strip above his head like a banner and leaded the Litvans to the victory.

An other version also brings the flag in relation with the god Jaryła - white and red are supposed to be his colours.

With the christianisation the Slavonic god Jaryła transformed into St. Jurja (George). The flag of St. George was a military flag of medieval Litva.

The St.George was also created according to heraldic rules - the flag should be of the same colours as the arms.

the Litvan flag of St. George


the flag of England

The arms of Moscow has officially St. George on it too.

The white-red-white banner was the flag of the Belarusian Democratic Republic and of the Republic of Belarus from 1990 till 1995.


The Apostolic cross

The Patriarchal or Apostolic cross (a cross with 2 horizontal lines) is also a national symbol of the people of Great Litva.


The Solar and orthodox symbol

We find it on ancient border-stones of the first Litvan states (the kingdoms of Połacak, Turaŭ and others).

the Stone of Duke Barys

In the ancient times it was a solar symbol (probably also somehow related to Jaryła), but after Litva was baptised in the 10th century, the cross got its Christian meaning.

St. Kanstanty and St. Alena with an orthodox cross


The cross of St. Euphrasynne

The princess Euphrasynne was an important christian figure in the 12th century. She was the daughter of the Połacak duke Śviatasłaŭ. Instead of enjoying her luxurious life the princess took the veil and dedicated her life to enlightenment and education of the people of Litva. She founded a monastery in Sialco which soon became one of the most important cultural and educational centres of Litva.

In 1161 the jeweller Łazar Bohša made a 51 cm long cross from gold and wood for the princess. The cross had the traditional for Litva form of an Apostolic cross.

The cross of St. Euphrasynne became the most important medieval Litvan artefact – a kind of talisman of Great Litva. In 1941 the cross disappeared during the Nazi occupation and its further fate is still unknown. The cross might have been sold to some collector in the USA (Rockefeller?), or could have been ‘evacuated’ to Moscow by the NKVD (KGB) when fleeing from Mahiloŭ, where the cross was kept before.

the cross of St. Euphrasynne

St. Euphrasynne of Połacak


The Jahiełon (Jagiełłon) cross

The Litvan King Jahajła (Jagiełło) made the Apostolic cross emblem of his dynasty (Jahiełony) and adopted it as a detail of the arms “Pahonia” (the knight has it on his shield).

This fact might have a relation to a possible influence of the Hungarian monarchy with whom Jahajła tried to esteblish dynastic unions.


Arms of Hungary

The Arms of Slovakia also has an apostolic cross on it

Bevore Jahajła Litva was a mainly orthodox state, but large parts of the country - Samogitia and modern West Belarus - were pagan. Jahajła made relations with Europe prior for Litva and adopted catholicism as the official and royal religion (former pagan regions of modern West Belarus and Samogitia were let be baptised by the catholic church). The Apostolic cross was accepted as a "Christian" cross not only by the orthodox, but also by the roman catholic church, later it became symbol of the Litvan  Uniate (greek-catholic) church. So, as a symbol uniting orthodoxes and catholics, the Apostolic cross was the ideal symbol for the Litvan royal household.

Also, the Apostolic church was often used by kings who had baptised their countries. As Jahajła baptised (to catholicism) a large part of his country and orietnted Litva towards Europe, this could also be a reason for starting using the Apostolic cross as a national and royal symbol.

Today the Litvan (Belarusian) Apostolic cross is most time being called the Cross of St.Euphrasynne of Połacak.



© Bartolomaeus Horbač Anno Domini 2003